THIS FRIDAY: KRISTOPHER JAMES RETURNS TO KEY WEST THEATER

Kristopher James plays Key West Theater in January, and returns for a show July 8. LARRY BLACKBURN/Contributed

Kristopher James had music inside him from a young age. Sitting in the doorway of his room, with a radio and tape deck, he spent hours making mixtape after mixtape of songs that would mold his musical mind. From Boys II Men’s “cooleyhighharmony” to Garth Brooks’ hits, James swam in the lyrics and drank in the melodies. His knack for music, plus dozens of composition books he filled with personal poetry, improvised lyrics and dream-like short stories, determined his calling — songwriter.

But James’ true journey began when he sat behind a drum set, fueled by teenage angst. From there, he taught himself guitar, piano and, bravely, how to sing. What is seen now, on intimate stages, like the iconic Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, Georgia, to theater stages, such as the Capitol Theater in Clearwater, Florida, is the concentrated influences and earnest emotional exposition that solidify Kristopher James as an Americana-Soul force to be encountered and experienced.

Shortly after becoming a father, while wrestling with the dualities of parenthood, James penned his first song, a three-verse, two-chorus, one-bridge tune that would break the floodgates of his pent-up musical creativity. “My Heart Wasn’t Ready” became a breakout song, and was the first of four to be written, recorded and produced in the following weeks to become his first EP, “Movement,” which also features the highly-praised “Runaways.”

James soon garnered local acclaim, with Creative Loafing Tampa saying, “His vocals are perfectly reined in to suit his range and his easy gift for melody is unrivaled in the Bay area singer-songwriter space.” Such support from the Florida musical community propelled James back into the studio for his second EP, “Find Me,” in which James sustains his soulful exchange with an ardent substance uniquely his own.  

Though he’s lived in the Sunshine State for most of his life, James’ talent for melody and song extend far past the state line. Like his influences Otis Redding, Amos Lee and Roberta Flack, his voice is clear, controlled and full of all-the-feels. As with all artists, his sound has ebbed and flowed, evolving yet remaining instantly recognizable. With the growth he’s experienced as an artist, James felt it was time to capture his songs, in their fully imagined sound, with his 2019 full-length release, “Kindness Never Quits.” Featuring songs like the soulful “We Ain’t Never,” which was hailed as “undoubtedly the best record of the year,” by Creative Loafing Tampa.

Through 2020 and 2021, during the uncertainty of COVID, the Tampa Bay native independently recorded and released two lauded singles “Never Had To Find Our Way” (featuring Max Brown of The War & Treaty & Kyshona Armstrong) and “Feelings” (featuring Mike Hicks of Rascal Flatts), independently.

James takes perhaps his most profound steps, recognizing the fragility of life, in making this year one of intention and attention. He has solidified his path in a courteous stride of soulful southern R&B impressions, on stage with rousing guitars, swoonful keys and in-pocket rhythms – as well as off stage with sincere stories, and recognition of how important community is to our continued growth.

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