You can always tell if an artist is truly committed to creative evolution when, like ethereal vocalist and soulful piano man James Raftery, he pops out an impressive notoriety fetching decade long discography early in his career under an assumed identity (Rat Wakes Red), then returns from an overlong hiatus under his real name to record two albums (Everything, and now, the ingeniously hypnotic, melodic and sweetly sensitive Tornado) completely different in tone and texture.
Actually the multi-talented, classically trained Raftery originally put his musical aspirations aside for a time to pursue a career as a horror film actor before the Rat Wakes Red era, which led him to open for the likes of Bob Mould, Hayden Sloane and Digable Planets. Yet Even more fascinating than his switch from the medium size screen to low key indie pop stardom is the dramatic way he shifts now from the ultra-trippy, synth and beat driven Everything to the much more personal, intimate and heartfelt piano-vocal centered Tornado.
Both pop and classically influenced, it’s more than simply a showcase for his formidable (and richly lyrical) pop and classical influenced ivory skills. It’s also a way to experience the purity of his graceful, sometimes whispery voice with minimal production (a bit of synth strings and light harmonic effects here and there) to distract from his emotional storytelling.
Often, as on key tracks like the opening ballad “Gardener,” the sweetly whimsical “The Wonder That’s In Your Heart” and the stark, sweetly melancholy “Going It Alone,” Raftery’s piano is so inviting and compelling you feel as though he could create a beautiful new age solo instrumental album out of these tracks and the same beams of emotion would shine through.
Yet for now we’re blessed with the combination of that piano, the lilting hypnosis of his voice and his symphonic harmony skills – and that creates enough of a subtle Tornado to capture our hearts for the time being. Because Raftery has been all over the stylistic map for two decades, you never know what’s coming next – but for now, he made the right decision to forgo any experimentation and get back to the basics of his musical journey.