One of the most exciting parts of being a music fan is following a band or singer’s career and hearing the ways their sound and lyrics evolve from album to album. When James Durbin rocked the Idol stage back in Season 10, he was known for his slogan “Keep Metal Alive,” having brought songs by Judas Priest, Muse, and 30 Seconds to Mars to the Idol stage for the first time.
When it comes down to it, Durbin’s voice lends itself well to the rock genre with his epic range and his infectious passion for his lyrics. But as a fan of his since the show, it has been interesting to watch his sound evolve from Idol to where it is today on his third album, Riot on Sunset, which released on iTunes, July 15 for those who didn’t back it on his PledgeMusic page.
His first two albums, Memories of a Beautiful Disaster and Celebrate, were both released on his original label, Wind-up, and gave us two very different versions of Durbin’s musical personality. Memories had a heavy dose of that authentic metal sound that Durbin promised, and I can attest to that fact that the singer certainly makes the songs rock that much harder live, but for Celebrate, Durbin gave fans a bit more of a pop flavor, showing that he’s more than capable of both. With the crowdfunding aspect of the third album, Durbin promised to “bring the rock” and he certainly did.
That’s not to say that the album stays in one lane all the way through. Durbin toys with the complexity of the rock genre, showing off softer acoustics on songs like the title track, “Riot on Sunset,” “N1N9TEEN” and one of my favorites, “Mustang Livin’,” some reminiscent of 90s and early 2000s grunge rock (think early Green Day tracks) that brought heavy doses of nostalgia. “Riot on Sunset” kicks off the record in style, bringing Durbin’s typical rebel rock back for the loyal fans while “N1N9TEEN” exposes a bit of that vulnerability that he’s always been able to deliver through his music.
But fret not fans of Durbin’s harder rock sound, the lead single “Smackdown,” which already sports it’s own music video, is joined by “City of Nightmares,” a fast-driving track that amps up the velocity of the album one hundred-fold as the second track. “Beautiful” and “We Are the Unknown” also have that classic rock flair that wouldn’t be out of place on albums from several decades ago, while still sounding modern enough for today’s music scene.
Durbin even brings the fun with his fellow Idol contestant Casey Abrams on “Scratchers N Cheap Beer,” arguably the catchiest track on the album and one that will stick in your head and have you singing along by the second chorus, with lyrics that will make you chuckle along the way. It also wouldn’t be a James Durbin album without a song that really hits close to the heart and the closing track, “Keep Me Alive,” serves that purpose well, depicting how desperately dependent we become on the one that we love.
Truly, the album has that raw authenticity that, in part, comes from being crowdfunded but also comes from James’ own musical sensibilities. I find that the music that results from crowdfunding is always more true to who the artist is because that is what the backers are really paying for and, for me, “Riot on Sunset” felt like spending an hour with James and getting to know the best parts of him along the way.
The album is currently available on iTunes. Durbin is headed out on a 13-date cross country tour, which kicked off last night in Portland, OR. For more details, check out his website: jamesdurbinofficial.com or follow him on Twitter: @DurbinRock.