San James (a.k.a. Marilyse Senécal) is a pop and smooth jazz project from Montreal that should be able to ease even the most tightly wound human being. After releasing two singles throughout the year, the debut EP No One Changes Over Night, was recorded at Planet Studios and Studio Victor, and released in September, 2016. While all of the tracks are written by Senécal, the EP features a smorgasbord of musicians including Vincent Yelle, Jonathan Peters, Jonathon Charette, Mandela Coupal-Dalgleish, Francis Major, David Marchand and, last but not least, Nicolas Roberge (who also did the mixing), almost all of whom switch instruments, depending on the track. The sweet, sweet vocals, piano, and Rhodes are left to Senécal.
Very rarely are artists able to accurately depict themselves, but San James lists her sound as “plunging into a world where heavy pop, smooth jazz and rock coexist in harmony… from the very first notes.” The opening track “I Never Do” makes this plainly clear. The first time I listened to the track, I stopped what I was doing and actually listened. The lyrics revolve around love and heartache and, like a good pop song, are highly relatable, and thus tend to stick with you.
Even though pop is generally not my forte, San James utterly transcends the understandably shitty association with the genre. Senécal’s voice is an instrument of its own, and it is pleasantly astounding. The tracks on the EP are simple, and somewhat predictable but the combination of Senécal’s voice, piano, and song writing ability pack a huge punch. There are, in my opinion, a few weak links on No One Changes Over Night (such as “Winter Again” and, to a lesser extent, “Grey Sky”) but they are simply the result of the fact that Senécal just sounds too good on her own. This is not to say that it is the fault of the musicians behind her, rather that for San James, minimalism is the most powerful.
This acoustic version of the ballad “Please Don’t Say” recorded in a session for Livetoune is a perfect example of how captivating Senécal can be when she has nothing but her voice and a set of keys. While No One Changes Over Night really is quite beautiful in its entirety, my favourite track is hands down “In The End.” With the best display of her vocal range and the most guitar on the EP, this track is definitely the “heaviest,” and is almost funky. Personally, I’d love to see get her a little sassier, smoke a few packs of cigarettes, and kick ass in a 50s dive jazz bar. Maybe I’m just dreaming…
Written by Jordan Hodgins
*edited by Kate Erickson