Like a soundtrack to a malevolent carnival, “Weight of the World” is part bounce, part menace. Shayfer James has a theatrical baritone—rich and emotive, with a flair for phrasing; to enjoy this one you’ll have to be okay with a singer you can hear breathe and just about can see spit. But what the song may lack in subtlety it makes up for, I think, in exuberant catchiness. The swinging, syncopated chorus is all but irresistible, with its cavorting melody, inexorable chord progression, and those ghostly moans in the background.
Underneath it all James blends the cabaret and the barrelhouse with his vampy piano work. Even after all these years, tinkling authentic ivories remains a rare skill in rock’n’roll, and almost always lends a bit of show biz to the proceedings. Which I mean as a compliment, just to be clear.
James is a New Jersey-based singer/songwriter who actively cultivates the charismatic/mysterious rogue image—a kind of Tom Waits for the new millennium, complete with fedora. (His online bio labels him “the portrait of vagabond royalty.”) It’s a tricky posture for a youngster from the suburbs but he does have both unconventional family history (his oldest sibling is six years younger than his mother; long story) and impressive stage presence; there’s a good chance that if he sticks with it, he’ll grow into the part.
“Weight of the World” is the lead track on Counterfeit Arcade, an album James self-released at the end of November, his second full-length release. You can both listen to it and buy it via Bandcamp.