Branden James Crossover Review


When I had the chance to interview Branden James in 2014 for The Colab Network, I listened to a few of his songs and went armed with a few questions. I liked his style but didn’t know all that much about him. I left as a fan for life. That’s the impression he as a person and a musician had on me. It didn’t matter that he was one of the Twelve Tenors or had been a finalist on America’s Got Talent. All that was testament to his talent (and in my opinion he should have won America’s Got Talent) but even if he’d been singing on the street and I’d heard him there, I’d have known he was one of the best.

So I was thrilled when the opportunity came along to review his EP!  It’s an absolute honour to be asked to write about someone as talented as this. 

Branden says “I really thought about the word crossover and what that means to me. I wanted to take the musical styles I’ve been influenced by and fuse them together without neglecting the fact that I’m a classically trained singer. What came out of my pen were elements of pop, folk, Americana and even a hint of country.”

With that in mind, I think Branden achieved that and more with this collection of beautiful, sensitively written and sung tracks. The EP as a whole is a lovely mix of contemporary and classical songs written or co-written by Branden James (except “The Night” which was written by Katy Stephan and “Why You Had to Change My World” which was written by, and a big hit of, Branden’s grandfather – country star Jimmy Smith.)

“You Belong” is a very comforting song especially to those who sometimes wonder where their place in the world is – and indeed, what they are doing here. Loneliness is a sad place to be and the song makes the listener feel that he or she is not misplaced in the world.

“The Night” has a folksy, upbeat feel to it and is a nice fit after the slower “You Belong”

“Where Are You Now” is a no brainer for me. We’ve had a couple of losses in our family this year. Very recently we had to put our beloved dog down which has been completely shattering. I found myself listening to this and smiling and thinking of her. Anybody who has experienced any form of loss or is missing anybody in any way will find this very relatable, soothing and healing.

“Another Chance” describes a situation to which we can all relate, probably particularly in our teenage and young adult years – how many chances do we give someone or something? The song sums up that range of emotion in a moving, meaningful way which will stick with people.

“It’s Beautiful Tonight” contains some artistic imagery that takes the mind to another place. I loved the line “I’m staring at a frozen sky” which really made me think ‘yes. It IS beautiful tonight.’

Branden James and Me!“Why You Had to Change My World”
is a beautiful cover of the Jimmy Smith original with a traditional moving country feel. This is a lovely tribute to a grandfather who had a large impact on Branden’s life and clearly passed on talent!!

As with every song of Branden’s, it’s far better for you to listen to the music and experience it for yourself than to rely on the written word. The EP is already available for preorder on iTunes (I just put my order in!). Sales will begin August 18th.

There is something for everyone in this peaceful, moving EP by a highly talented musician.

Reviews are supposed to have some sort of criticism included to make them balanced, but the only thing I could find wrong is that the EP doesn’t go on longer. I am ‘just a fan’ without any musical knowledge but I do know that Branden James as a musician is a cut above the rest. So I enlisted the help of a professional musician, Jean Collen, to do this piece justice.

Here is what she has to say.

Branden James has a beautiful voice with clear diction and he sings each of the six songs in Crossover with sincere emotion. It is obvious that his classical vocal training has stood him in good stead performing songs in widely differing styles with equal flair. Not only does he perform the songs but he has co-written most of them. The last song in the collection, Why You Had to Change My World  was written by his grandfather, Country and Western singer, Jimmy Smith is performed with a very apt accompaniment. For me, the revival of Branden’s grandfather’s hit song was the cherry on the top of a wonderful collection.

The accompaniments are innovative. Branden has gathered a group of fine musicians and backing singers to support him in this unique collection. I particularly liked the use of the ‘cello in various songs. The guitar accompaniment in Another Chance is particularly pleasing. Branden is a gifted and musical performer and I feel sure that Crossover will have wide appeal.

Jean Collen is a musician and retired teacher of classical singing and piano. She has written several books about her friends and singing teachers, the great British duettists, Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler, and a series of novels and short stories – all with a musical theme. The latter books are written under the pen name of Fiona Compton.

Branden James’ EP Crossover will be available for pre-order starting August 6th on iTunes. Sales will begin August 18th.   It will also be available  at the following outlets:  YouTube Music Key, Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music, Google Play, Rdio, Deezer, Xbox Music, Rhapsody, eMusic, Simfy Africa, iHeartRadio, MixRadio, MediaNet,  VerveLife, Tidal, Gracenote, Shazam, 7Digital, Juke, JB Hi-Fi, Slacker, Guvera, KKBox, Akazoo, Anghami,  Spinlet, Neurotic Media, Yandex, Target Music, ClaroMusica,, Zvooq, Saavn, 8tracks, NMusic, Amazon On Demand

You can follow Branden on Facebook or Instagram

Branden James – Voice of an American Angel In Our Town!

Branden James is a young man with a lot of soul in his eyes and the distinguished classical voice of an angel.  He’s one of the Twelve Tenors and was a finalist in America’s Got Talent Season 8. It’s said that he has a voice for all seasons, but I think he has a voice for all time.

I normally post a lot of pics but with Branden James, his music talks better than pictures, so please listen to the clips I’ve shared.

Listen to this and then read on.

You can witness this for yourself at 3pm on Sunday 14 September when he performs in Branden James – Up Close and Personal at the Auto and General Theatre on theSquare in Sandton. 

He is described as a highly acclaimed international classical/crossover tenor and he  will take you on a heart-warming personal musical journey encompassing his love for all music styles, most especially classic, theatre, jazz interspersed with well known pop numbers. He’ll perform together with Cito from WONDERboom and British Diva vocalist Alison Ward. The audience will be treated to instantly recognisable hits like You Raise Me Up, Nessun Dorma, I’ve got you under my skin, New York New York, Desperado, Rocket Man, Your Song, This is a Man’s World, Ave Maria and The Prayer to name but a few.

branden collett and meI met with Branden and Collett Dawson from TheCoLab Network in Rosebank on a gorgeous spring morning where the scene was set for me by a busker playing his guitar in the parking lot at The Zone.
I’m told that in Branden James – Up Close and Personal, we can look forward to a heart-warming personal musical journey encompassing your love for all music styles, most especially classic, theatre, jazz interspersed with well known pop numbers. What’s your favourite style and what drew you to classical?
I would say classical pop. I was probably one of the most frustrating students for my piano teachers, because I didn’t always want to play what was on the sheet, I would play my own and then they would say I wasn’t practising.  But I soldiered on and I learned some of the popular songs and other pieces.  I think my voice is geared towards classical. It took me a while to get into singing, but I would do it by myself in the school gym and in the car, and then I almost fell into it by accident. A friend overheard me and convinced me to audition for the school choir so I did and it went on from there.  I do songs like “You Raise Me Up”, I would almost say I’ve become quite synonymous with that.

And with good reason:

What are you looking forward to about doing Up Close and Personal?
I’m happy that there will be something for everyone.  I’ve been to check out the Auto and GeneralTheatre on the Square and it’s so intimate so I’m looking forward to sharing all different styles of music.  And I will have the honour of performing with Cito from WONDERboom. Not everybody will be able to go back to the States and say they’ve been able to do that.  I’ll also do some originals – I usually like to just sit down at the piano and see what it feels right to play on the day.  Also I made a lot of friends and connections here and I’m looking forward to seeing some familiar faces in the audience.
I’ve heard that you might be doing Desperado – that’s one of my favourite songs of all time. I heard it in a documentary in like the late 90s and we didn’t have the internet then and it took me about a decade to find out that it was the Eagles. Is there any particular reason for that song?
Yes. I’ve always had the influence of country music. My grandfather was the country singer Jimmy Smith and I grew up with him. My father was and still is a huge Elvis Presley fan and so I had quite a large honky tonk influence.
You’re doing a lot of TV and radio appearances while you’re here.
Yes. In fact I’m going to a TV show tonight which will be on SABC – so everyone can see it. It’s called Tongue In Cheek and I’ll be doing an original song on there as a guest artist. It will go out on air on September 16th.
You were a finalist in America’s Got Talent last year.  Obviously your career had started before that so this wasn’t a career launching entry.  Why did you want to enter it and how did it assist you?
I’d always had an obsession with these types of shows. I actually was interested in American Idol and The Voice and they said I was good but maybe my voice didn’t quite suit the format of the show. That’s also what prompted me to explore other styles. And then a friend of mine suggested that I try America’s Got Talent, because it wasn’t only about pop it was about all different styles and different forms of entertainment. And it took me three years to get the nerve up to try and when I did it was so worth it. It just increases your audience and the benefits of doing well on it are incredible. I mean the audience is up to about 14 million.

What advice would you give to people looking to enter a show like America’s Got Talent?
Just be your most authentic self. TV audiences are no dummies. You have to be on top of your performance.  And social media has changed the way we view TV – even to the point of how people vote in shows like AGT. You don’t only SMS in now. You can vote on Twitter or other ways online.

What were highlights for you of your Twelve Tenors tour to SA in 2010?
I loved it. It was the final stop on a world tour we were doing.   I just loved the spirit of the place. It’ unparalleled. And Collett organised so many great things. She took us to so many places including a place called Glen Afric that was just so amazing. The South African audiences are so appreciative.  People were actually screaming for us and they really showed how much they liked us. Also the guys were so great.  People would ask us whether we all got on, and we did! There was nothing wrong, we are more like brothers actually.  And I had worked with some of the guys before. There are times when I miss working in a big band of guys like that because of the camaraderie.  Also the food in South Africa is amazing. I’m a foodie and I grew up in New York City where the food is very diverse and when I came here I was expecting it to be a bit bland and more like British food  but I was very surprised and pleased by the different foods here.
Do you have a favourite song?
That’s a difficult question for a musician to answer because my taste is so varied and it changes on a weekly or bi weekly basis.  But I just heard a song called Family by aSowetan band called Soil this morning and that’s going to become a favourite for the next while. I’m going to download it as soon as I can get to some wifi. I also like jazzy songs like My Funny Valentine (Recorded by Chet Baker, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Andy Williams, Miles Davis, Nico and Chaka Khan. The song is a popular jazz standard, appearing on over 1300 albums performed by over 600 artists.)
I’ve heard that you kicked off games for the Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Cubs, and Chicago Bulls with your rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner. Are you a sports fan yourself and what’s it like performing in front of a sporting crowd?
I’m actually not much of a sports fan but I enjoy the atmosphere and it’s nice to sing the national anthem. Also with games like the Lakers, they have a huge celebrity following and I like to look for the famous faces in the crowds.

As with all of us I’m sure you’ve had setbacks or difficulties and times when it’s hard to push on. In those times what pushes you?
Every artist struggles at times because they are professional and perfectionists so sometimes it’s just about thinking about not being good enough. Actually one of my favourite quotes is by Eleanor Roosevelt who said “Do one thing every day that scares you”.  So I constantly put myself in places where I’m scared, to push myself to grow further.
I’ve often wondered what it would be like to stand up in front of a large audience and perform. I don’t think that I could do it.  Are you a natural with that or is that something that might be daunting?
It depends a lot on the context, but I think I am quite natural. And writing and playing music, sitting down at my piano, that’s my place of calm. That’s what gives me peace and strength.
I love America at least what I know of it. If I could have my choice of place to be, I’d be living in California near Santa Barbara or Santa Monica. I see that you come from Orange County. I know they’re quite a jump apart,  but have you always lived there and can you tell me something of your experience growing up as a classical musician there?

Branden James and Me!Although Orange County is in California it is still quite a world away from LA, they are really two different worlds. Orange County is more like a family community and I think it is almost because there is quite a lack of creativity. I’ve also lived in New York for a while and sometimes you have to wade through the Hollywood stereotypes.  The culture and creativity is there, but sometimes you have to drive to find it.
I believe that musicians, artists, actors etc have the ability to tweak the golden thread of humanity with their art – it goes across generations, nations, races.  You can move people, and make them think more about things – inspire people.  Is that something that you aim to achieve with your music? Do you want to do this for other people or is it something that you need to do?
Both. Expression is important. And I often get people contacting me who are say they are inspired by my story who say I have helped them deal with certain issues. I think I’ve been quite open with my sexuality and I don’t mind if I’m seen as an LGBT activist even though it’s not my primary purpose.  I sometimes even get people contacting me from the Middle East and places saying that my story inspires them . I come from a strong religious background and it was quite a struggle with my parents when I came out. Slowly things are mending, and I want to be a comfort to people and be able to tell them it won’t always be that way.  I like knowing that people can take comfort from my story.
There shouldn’t be any issue about people’s sexuality. I mean, who cares. It should be that anyone can be who they want and shouldn’t feel the need to come out to anyone else. Do you think that there will ever be a day when that kind of acceptance comes?
I’m an optimist, so I’m going to say yes. I have a love for humanity, not taking into account people’s sexuality. Also with social media we’re able to make immense strides and break down barriers. So I’m going to say that that day will come.  
What’s up next for you after Up Close and Personal?
Well after this I’m going to Reykjavik. I’m doing the show on Sunday at 3 and then getting on a plane at 7. It’s a long journey. And then after that I’m doing some shows on a ship and then heading to New Zealand, I’ll be doing some shows in Auckland.  There’s  a lot going on. And I’m looking forward to seeing some familiar faces on Sunday at the Auto and General Theatre on the Square.

As I left Branden gave me a hug and I know that I’ve been hugged by a man with one of the nicest voices in the world today. 

BRANDEN JAMES – Up Close and Personal
One Show only!

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Auto and General Theatre on the Square 

Timothy Moloi Stars in Aladdin – and talks to me!

I first heard South African tenor Timothy Moloi performing in an open air production of Shakespeare at the Johannesburg Zoo. His voice carried across to me at the back of the audience in that blustery, open terrain, and I knew that here was a talent I wanted to follow. So my excitement was great when I heard that Timothy was about to star as Aladdin at Joburg Theatre. I knew I had to see the show, and I was very happy when Timothy agreed to do an interview for this blog! 

Born and raised in Orlando, Soweto; Timothy Moloi grew up in a home filled with song. It is this love for music, and his flair for infusing familiar and beloved standards with a new freshness, that has made him a favourite with audiences throughout South Africa. With his smooth-as-velvet voice and masterful range, Timothy is one of South Africa’s most extraordinary talents.

He returned to South Africa in 1999, having completed his studies at Ohio Wesleyan University in the USA. Since then Timothy has led a busy performance schedule, and has performed with the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra, the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, the East Cape Philharmonic, the Electric Pops Orchestra, the Johannesburg Festival Orchestra, the Johannesburg Big Band and the Soweto Gospel Choir.

Timothy Moloi’s powerful acoustic versions of some of today’s biggest hits can also be heard online on YouTube, featuring his smooth renditions of some of the world’sbiggest songs. His videos have received more than 500,000 hits to date onYouTube

You are currently starring in Janice Honeyman’s Aladdin at the wonderful Joburg Theatre as the Genie of the Lamp amongst a cast which includes Jeremy Mansfield, Christopher Jaftha, and Bongi Mthombeni. How did this role come about?

I was offered the role by Bernard Jay, from the Joburg Theatre, at the beginning of year. It was a wonderful opportunity and I did not hesitate to say yes!

What are highlights that audiences can watch out for in the show?

The show is a spectacle! Audiences can look forward to great costumes, amazing sets and lighting, wonderful performances, music and choreography, and of course Jeremy Mansfield as the wonderfully evil Abanazer! 

What’s been the most fun working with this cast?

It’s a real ensemble piece and there’s been a wonderful sense of togetherness and supportiveness from each and every member of the cast which has made coming to work each day such a joy. 

Is this the biggest theatre production you’ve worked on?

It is definitely one of the biggest productions I’ve worked on.

What’s it like working with this kind of music, lighting, special effects, etc?

It’s been a lot of fun. Especially because there’s such attention to detail and all the technical elements help us with our performances. We have an amazing technical crew behind the scenes who help create the magic! Our musical director is Roelof Colyn. He has done an amazing job with the music for the show and it’s a great privilege performing with him and our fantastic band.

You’ve got a star studded career in show biz here in South Africa having amongst many other things performed the song “Hope” at the OPENING CEREMONY of the FIFA 2010 WORLD CUP at Soccer City to an estimated global audience of 500 million viewers,Television performances have included the MTN SOUTH AFRICAN MUSIC AWARDS, MISS SOUTH AFRICA, SABC3 JOBURG POPS, the SABC2/Sowetan COMMUNITY BUILDER OF THE YEAR AWARDS, the SA RUGBY AWARDS and the MNET “HEROES AGAINST CRIME” AWARDS, as well as several guest appearances on popular programs. You’ve sung for President Nelson MandelaGraca Machel, and King Willem Alexander and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands at Douw Steyn’s private game reserve Shambala in the Waterberg.  Describe the experience of singing in front of Nelson Mandela? What did you perform for him?

We performed a special concert for them as part of the World Summit in 2002. It was amazing because it was at such an intimate event, and Madiba had such kind words for us after the show. He has an amazing presence and it was a great honour performing for him and meeting him after the performance.

How different is it to sing on TV than in the theatre?

Live TV can be quite exciting, especially on large events such as Miss SA and the World Cup. But I love the immediacy of theatre. It’s great to feel the audiences response.

Which is your first love?

My first love will always be performing live in front of an audience.

You were born and raised in Orlando, Soweto, and studied in the US at at Ohio Wesleyan University in the USA. What did you study?

I got a BA in theatre with a minor concentration in music.

Ohio is a far cry from Orlando. What was it like studying so far away from home? How did it come about that you would study in the States? Were there any teachers or lecturers who played a specific role in your life – who are your mentors?

It was a special experience studying in the USA, especially because that’s where I started performing professionally. I had a family friend who helped me with the application process to a number of colleges, and I chose the university that gave me the most financial assistance. There were many great lecturers, but my acting teacher Elaine Denny was the one who really helped me gain confidence on stage. I’ll be eternally grateful to her. 

What was your first break into theatre and how have you grown since then?

My first break into theatre happened when I returned to South Africa in 1999, and immediately was cast by Janice Honeyman in her production of “Little Shop of Horrors” at the Joburg Theatre. It has been a really special experience returning to this wonderful theatre 14 years later to work with her again.

In South Africa we almost have a responsibility to encourage our youth to embrace their talents and create their own opportunities. My own son is 13 and enjoys being on stage but he is changeable, shy and has a bit of a lack of self confidence. What would you say to kids like him?

I would say practice, practice and more practice makes perfect! As performers we never ever stop learning and improving. The whole process takes time, so it’s important to be patient and to persevere.

Aladdin is currently running at the Joburg Theatre. It’s not to be missed. 

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