Toronto’s Bianca James establishes herself as a truly compelling singer/songwriter with a tight set of incredibly hooky sixties-inspired tracks on her self-titled debut album out now.
While many artists mine similar veins of vintage musical vibes, few do so as convincingly and effortlessly as Bianca James. On this, her independent debut album, Bianca nails it with her huge voice and a degree of cinematic flair that captures all the drama and glamour of the time, while adding an eminently satisfying splash of modern pop to the mix.
That comes across loud and clear on every track on the album. Nowhere more so than on the cutting-edge track ‘Bang Bang Baby.’ Featuring a uniquely expressive vocal performance, a stellar contribution by The Hollywood Horns, and some decidedly modern flourishes haunting the edges, ‘Bang Bang Baby’ is an absolute earworm that somehow manages to sound timeless and current simultaneously.
For Bianca, music has always been a means of transforming heartbreak and pain into strength and freedom. “I don’t think I consciously wrote songs about empowerment, but there is a message of overcoming, of finding hope on the other side. That’s an undercurrent in all my songs,” she explains, adding that although she typically draws on personal experience in her songwriting: “My mission is to inspire others to live their life, and their dreams, to the fullest.”
It’s one of Bianca’s fondest dreams that fuels ‘Monaco’ – a vividly detailed, R&B-fuelled ditty inspired by her own travels – a song that fantasizes escaping the greyness of daily life, and one that displays her unique ability to bring the full force of her adventurous spirit to bear on her songs. And while she can’t pinpoint what precisely awakened that spirit, like music, she says: “I think it was always there.”
Growing up in Montreal with her Italian father and mother of UK descent, she glamorized the wild, free lifestyle of the Italian and French Riviera and the swinging rock ’n’ roll scene of 1960s London. She was constantly singing, developing her voice as she sang along to the classic records spinning on the family’s turntable.
Bianca believes the first step to achieving your dreams is refusing to settle for a dead-end reality, a thread she picks up on the urgent yet contemplative ‘Black & Blue.’ “It’s about drawing a line and setting boundaries, even if it means walking away.” By contrast, the ballad ‘Till I Remember’ – with its deeply layered backing vocals and intimate gospel piano – focuses on finding the strength to do so, and has since gone on to find placements in Apple Music’s Best New Songs, New Music Daily, Neu in: Pop and Breaking Pop.
“That song came to me in a moment of aching heartbreak. It’s about the distance between your head saying, ‘this isn’t working,’ and your heart catching up and being able to let go.” That’s something she teases out further on ‘Last Words,’ a groovy, heartfelt ‘goodbye and good luck’ track set against a moody minor key organ and electric guitar.
Recorded in LA, Toronto, and the UK (at The Kinks’ iconic Konk Studios) and produced by multiple Grammy nominee Rob Kleiner (Sia, David Guetta) and Juno-nominee Thomas McKay, on her album, Bianca depended on a time-tested approach – recording with live players.
Tracking with a group of top-flight musicians, including Michael Bublé former MD/Saxophonist Gene Hardy, allowed Bianca to capture her distinct vision on record with clarity, depth, and power. “Music made with actual organic instruments and real musicians, to me, is timeless,” Bianca says, citing the work of artists like Adele, Amy Winehouse, and Mark Ronson.
Timeless is perhaps the best way to describe Bianca’s contemporary take on a truly classic, international sound – one that draws reference from American and British 1960s styles with a melding of elements of Motown, Soul, and modern pop.
While she’s going for glamour across the board, Bianca does so with integrity, poise, and grace, proving that grit, determination, and ambition – like the signature blend of old and new school sounds on the album – never go out of style. And while she’s quick to credit everyone for their indelible contributions, at its core the album owes its strength and universal appeal to Bianca’s undeniably powerful voice, finely honed chops as a songwriter, and unwillingness to compromise on her dream.
Ultimately, the album is the culmination of hard work, writing, traveling, honing her skills, and embracing every experience – the good, the bad, and the ugly – as fuel for her innate creative fire.
That’s something you can hear in abundance on the album and in the depth and nuance of songs like the Diana Ross-inspired ‘Inside Out’ and the triumphantly crafted ‘Made To Love’ – tracks that distill the pain and struggle that so often accompany finding true joy and love and turning them into something beautiful and cathartic.
“We all only have one life, and I want to live mine authentically. I’m a North American girl with a British and European dream. My heart longs for other places. There’s a nostalgic, dreamy quality to my album that I wanted to get across, and I hope that moves people to chase their own dreams.”
Put bluntly, Bianca James is the real deal, the genuine article; an undeniable powerhouse as a vocalist and songwriter whose passion, drive and desire to empower others are on full display in equal measure on each and every track on her album.