Bitter Pill by Gavin James

Gavin James | Bitter Pill | Rating: 8/11 |

Release Date: March 11, 2016

Gavin James has one of those voices that makes the heart skip a beat and Bitter Pill showcases this talent while taking the listener on a journey of a lovesick artist. Listen with caution or be swept away by the tragic beauty.

The album opens with the tantalizing “For You,” gifting the listener with a musically sparse dedication set to showcase the pristine quality of Gavin’s voice. When the falsetto hits, you realize you’ve been holding your breath in anticipation of that moment that, once delivered, has perfectly whetted the appetite for what is to come. The album carries on, picking up a bit of steam by adding additional instrumentation, but rarely expanding beyond the mid-tempo guitar or piano ballad and never veering very far from the vocal centerpiece.

Bitter Pill, as the title might suggest, is an album for the heartbroken. The title track is a sweeping pop song lamenting the dissolution of a relationship as Gavin croons, “Seeing you, missing you is a bitter pill to swallow” and the rest of the tracks follow suit. Even the more jaunty tunes like “Say Hello” (a proper hand clapper) and “Remember Me” are more upbeat in tempo only.

If you’re a true masochist of the heart, skip to “22” which is a piercing ballad full of wistful nostalgia and soaring vocals wrapped in delicate piano strains. Other highlights include the guitar-driven “Nervous,” along with the vocal acrobatics in “I Don’t Know Why” and “Two Hearts”, a song that injects a livelier full band sound that builds along with a much needed sense of hopefulness.

The album ends with another vocal showcase, “Book of Love” with lines like “The book of love has music in it / In fact that’s where music comes from / Some of it’s just transcendental /Some of it’s just really dumb.” Just as you’re thinking about what this means and how it might be the perfect summation of Gavin’s debut, the falsetto kicks in and all rational thought is lost to the music.