Anyone wanting to hear what angels on earth truly sound like has had an easy time of it with the explosion of classical crossover/operatic pop artists and groups during the first part of this century. Most of the genre’s most renowned artists (Josh Groban, Andrea Bocelli, Il Divo, Il Volo, The Tenors) are either solo singers or groups. Which sets the sonically soaring yet also emotionally subtle and nuanced vocal and cello duo of Branden James and James Clark (aka Branden & James) apart from the pack immediately.
Their impactful debut album Chasing Dreams marks the first time the genre has offered a vocal-instrumental duo – with results as roaring and adventurous as they are intimate. Backed – or more appropriately caressed and supported lovingly - by the Budapest Art Orchestra and helmed by globally renowned, veteran genre producer Patrick Hamilton (Katherine Jenkins, David Garrett, Alfie Boe), the richly textured, soul-deep 12 track collection is a glorious showcase for the individual transcendence of Branden (a Season 8 Finalist on “America’s Got Talent”) and James (who has worked with Idina Menzel, Olivia Newton-John, Van Dyke Parks, Lea Salonga and others).
Yet despite the grandeur around them, the emotional core of each chosen piece is the sly, stunning, joyous and intuitive interaction between the two – and the occasional gorgeous and tension building cello solo segments by James. Their dual power takes flight on a set that, like many genre releases, thrives on a foundation of lush “poperatic” arrangements of familiar classics and modern pop hits – including the opener “A Million Dreams” (from “The Greatest Showman”), Don McLean’s “Vincent,” Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars,” Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know,” Roxette’s “It Must Have Been Love” (which takes on a new level of poignancy in the wake of the recent passing of singer Marie Fredriksson) and, perhaps most inviting of all, a sparse arrangement of Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect Symphony” featuring cello and piano intertwining to perfection with the vocals of Branden and guest singer, renowned Broadway performer Shoshana Bean.
Among the equally vibrant small batch of originals – including the sensual, sweeping “Canto Per Te,” co-written by Hamilton) is a song that allows the genre to meet our unique moment in history. The duo’s stirring, socially conscious ballad “Till We See” is a hard hitting yet hopeful anthem and musical call to action perfectly suited to the Black Lives Matter movement, with inspirational lines like “To be loved to be wanted is what everybody needs…to have hope for tomorrow is a blind necessity. . . Who will be the light and show the way/How much longer will we stand here watching/Till we believe, till we see.” The video for this track is compelling, essential viewing, blending artsy performance shots with still and video footage clips from the protests Branden & James attended, as well as others submitted from Los Angeles and London.