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James Durbin declares independence with ‘Riot on Sunset’

By Wallace Baine, Santa Cruz Sentinel
POSTED: 07/27/16, 3:28 PM PDT | UPDATED: 3 WEEKS, 6 DAYS AGO

It might be the most summer-in-Santa-Cruz thing you could possibly do: Picture a summer’s afternoon on the beach next to the Crow’s Nest, jamming with Santa Cruz’s most popular rock singer, James Durbin, leading a band called – you guessed it – the Lost Boys.

It all happens Thursday, Aug. 4 and Durbin and his band will be entertaining the crowd with a selections of oldies, classics and cover tunes. But the young man who thrilled the nation on “American Idol” back in 2011 does have something on his mind these days. It’s his new album, his third, titled “Riot on Sunset” has just been released. Though he won’t be bringing out the new original material at the Crow’s Nest beach party, Durbin will also perform live at the Santa Clara County Fair in San Jose on Aug. 6, where he will play selections from the new album, his first wholly independently released record.

“I’ve put out music before,” said Durbin, 27, in reference to his previous two albums on the Wind-Up label. “Those albums were constructed and put together and produced by other people. I love my other records, but this album feels like it’s mine.”

Durbin wrote, or co-wrote, seven of the album’s 12 tracks. It was recorded locally at Rocker Studios in Santa Cruz with Durbin’s own band. The video for the album’s first single “Smackdown” was shot at the Kaiser-Permanente Arena.

“Riot on Sunset” is a deft blend of big crunchy rockers and soul-searching ballads, many of which work as a kind of catharsis for a tough youth, said Durbin. “Sunday is Gone” was inspired by his first-ever visit to the grave of his father, who died when Durbin was a pre-teen.

The one connection to “Idol” on the new album is the song “Scratchers and Cheap Beer,” a rowdy rocker, featuring a guest vocal by singer Casey Abrams, who was part of “American Idol” season 10, alongside Durbin. The two have become good friends and Abrams has played twice at Moe’s Alley (while staying at the home of Durbin and his wife Heidi).

Durbin said that the song “Keeps Me Alive” ranks with the best song he’s ever recorded. “That song is perfect. There is nothing that I would add or change.” But the most revealing track on the new record may be “Nin9teen,” an introspective ballad looking back on how far Durbin – diagnosed with both Asperger’s Syndrome and Tourette’s Syndrome – has come since he was 19.

“I was 19, when I met my wife,” said Durbin (He and Heidi now have two children, 7 and almost 2 years old). “I went from being a kid who never tried to do anything. For a long time, I was told by numerous people that I would never be able to do anything, that I would always need assistance, that I would never have a job because of autism and Tourette’s. Then I met Heidi and everything changed. She told me, ‘They’re all wrong. You can do anything.’ It was like when Harry Potter was finally told he was a wizard.”