Having released his debut album in 2021, James Vickery has swiftly become a prominent figure in British RnB. What sets Vickery apart is how his artistry embodies the belief that anything is possible. His story is one of resilience and perseverance, having undergone childhood surgery that left him deaf in one ear. Through speech therapy, he discovered his voice, which has since filled rooms and touched hearts. This EP revolves around love and is infused with sensuality. It pays homage to Vickery’s inspirations while incorporating contemporary beats that define the RnB scene in the UK today. The album serves as a love letter that will leave you joyfully spinning in circles.

The EP opens with ‘Only You’, a perfect choice that conveys Vickery’s message that sensuality and emotions begin and end with one person: you. From the very first notes, you can sense Vickery’s old soul. Both melodically and lyrically, there is a clear reference to Gene Wilder’s ‘Pure Imagination’, a beautiful standard co-written by jazz soul legend Anthony Newley. Vickery puts his own tender and heartfelt spin on the lyrics, delivering them with a capella harmonies that amplify the dreaminess of the original. As the track progresses, a synth bassline joins in, accompanied by Vickery’s smooth riffs, giving it that classic RnB sound. The swelling harmonies add depth to the lyrics, enveloping the listener in their warmth.

‘Only you make my world so happy, only you can brighten my nights. Always you, and always will be. Only you will have my heart.’

During these moments, the rhythm section deliberately takes a backseat, allowing Vickery’s vocals to take center stage. In the absence of lyrics, one can truly appreciate the tenderness that emanates from Vickery’s voice. His love and passion for his partner transcend language, conveyed purely through the sound of his voice. Between the harmonious swells, a shimmery synth motif adds shade and texture to this grand and momentous track. This softness is echoed in the outro, which consists solely of a raw vocal recording. By the end, it becomes clear that at the core of it all, Vickery and his voice are all that is truly needed.

Next comes ‘The Reason’, the first single released from this perspective. Despite being unveiled last summer, the track possesses a universality that allows it to resonate just as strongly in March as it did in August. Like ‘Only You’, this track draws inspiration from the classic blues sound of old soul. Vickery combines elements from Eric Clapton’s ‘Wonderful Tonight’ and Tom Misch’s ‘Movie’ to explore the experience of embarking on a new relationship and the discoveries that accompany it. He aimed to capture the initial sense of wonder and how this connection has positively transformed his life.

‘…the sudden realization that you’ve made me a better person while being with you, it’s the reason why my life feels so great right now.’

The track sets the tone from the start: smooth, warm, and embodying the sweet intoxication of the ‘honeymoon phase’ in a relationship. Led by an electric guitar and the sound of fingers clicking, Vickery takes listeners on a leisurely stroll through the first verse. Vocal harmonies enter in the chorus, unraveling the layers of the track and opening it up. Pauses within the phrasing create space and reflect the process of absorbing a new relationship. In the second verse, the synths introduce a ‘wow’ effect, adding even more excitement and fun to the newness of the connection. The ending is intriguing as it seemingly appears out of nowhere. The track’s fluidity is disrupted by an abrupt stop, capturing attention. Vickery’s thoughtful lyricism shines through, as the final line heard is ‘gone by night’, a motif that reappears throughout the album.

Track 3 initially presents itself as the piano ballad of the album. After the previous song closing on ‘night’, you are almost expecting things to slow down here and Vickery to delve deeper into his feelings. While not necessarily in the way you would expect, delve into his feelings is exactly what he does with this track. Its fitting that ‘Emotional’ comes right bang in the middle of the EP. It creates teh impression that Vickery’s sensuality and passion are at the centre of his art and by result the centre of everything. Everything else on the album radiates outward from this track and once you hear the album in its entirety, this becomes even more evident. The track opens with a lovely synth piano, the gentle sound of a crackling vinyl and James’s vocals on their own. Its really nice to see this vulnerability; so much of the album so far has been a demonstration of his ability to work with harmony and lots of voices at once so it feels really special and fitting given the song title to see him at his most exposed vocally. Rather than the piano ballad you perhaps were expecting, the beat comes in and creates this really mellow, shmoozy vibe, transporting you to a quiet jazz cocktail bar illuminated in yellow and orange. Vickery’s titular ‘emotions’ embody several different textures and hues; whilst they can feel intimate and vulnerable when the vox/piano are all you hear, they also can feel bright and deeply passionate when the music swells.

‘I can feel the tears in my eyes …. I cry, yes I cry, because somehow I’ve got you in my life’

The image of tears and crying is a recurring one in this track but rather than being a symbol of sadness, they reflect the weight of the longing and love Vickery feels. He talks openly about how his loved one elevates him and recognises his feelings rather than diminishing them-his crying is because he feels seen, understood and happy. The airy high notes he sings linger above the chorus line and further demonstrate this sense of ease he feels with his partner; being emotional is as effortless as singing like Mariah Carey. The track closes similarly to how it opened, Vickery’s vocals are left bare before a shimmery glock outro. You share the warmth, comfort and ease he feels and are ready to continue with the second half of the album.  

The previous tracks have been characterised by the things that made Old School RnB great but from the get go, ‘With You’ moves towards what has come to make up the contemporary British sound. The synths and bluesy jazz melodies have made way for more of an acoustic bedroom pop vibe and the beat section has been brought right to the forefront, showing Vickery’s versatility and ability to tap into the more fresh and current iteration of the genre. A big part of this is the rap section, delivered with ease and sophistication by Kojey Rascal. It’s been really nice to be hearing more of him recently, particularly after his hiatus. His feature on the EP is a lovely introduction to him as an artist and hopefully will send listeners towards ‘Reason to Smile’, his MOBO nominated album that was released last year. In the same way that the musicality of the track is an evolution, the lyrics and sound effects spark conversations about how modern romance and relationships have changed and become more reliant on social media and technology. A sample of a mechanic sound that pops up here and there is reminiscent of things like zoom/skype, the choice of the ‘U’ spelling in the title and use of terms like ‘rewind’ reflect the way in which we navigate relationships and our emotions has shifted with the 21st century. Kojey too muses on this subject, talking about his screen time and the many ways his relationship is linked to technology. Vickery has talked about how the song originally was about the inner conflict he was feeling when he felt there was no more room for him to grow in the British RnB scene. While you can get a sense of this motivation on the track, it’s really interesting to see that since its release, it has been able to take on so many more meanings and resonate with people in a multitude of ways. Regardless of how you read it, it ultimately speaks to the desire and yearning to spend all of your time with your loved ones, something universal which will always transcend technology.

To close the EP, Vickery chooses ‘Always Knew’. By far the most sensual and thought out track on the album, the lyrics, instrumentation and delivery of this song is fantastic. All about balance and blending things together, it continues the contemporary rhythm and beats we saw in the last track but juxtaposes these against the sound of vinyl static. The lyrics on the verses are a stroke of poetic genius and are mirrors of themselves, what’s going on sonically, and of the images Vickery seeks to create. 

‘Take just a fleeting second girl, go and make up your mind. Baby, I want you for seconds girl, a third if we have time’ 

‘I don’t want to waste a second girl, waiting all my life. Your’e never coming second girl, only if you like.’

The lyrics emulate the idea that two things that are the same but different are melting together. In this instance, it’s the use of the word ‘second’ but also is a reflection of different styles of the same music blending into one and also the image of two bodies coming together. The rhyming, word matching and melodic synchronicity gives the track a real fluidity and alongside the many harmonies and voices, you begin to feel like you’re swirling around the clouds. There’s a gorgeous pause in between ‘I always’ and ‘Knew’ in the second verse which act as a breath between this colliding and unification of sound/lyrics/bodies and further emphasises the sensuality of it all. The track bookends the album well as it has a similar energy and motivation to ‘Only You’. Vickery’s EP and by result his emotions begin and end with the same thing; the girl he loves. The end of the song is a point of intrigue as in a similar way to ‘The Reason’ it appears to just kind of end-the record has stopped spinning and you are left waiting for the room to start turning again.  

Music for the soul, James Vickery’s ‘Sheet Music’ has all the markings of a classic RnB record with hints of modern flare and artistry. The amount of collaboration featured on the EP point to just how welcoming and appreciative Vickery is of those around him and creates the beginnings of his next musical chapter. Already set to appear at SXSW in the summer, James has announced a string of dates in May, this music is stuff we can look forward to sharing. A warm, cosy and comforting listen, it’s a perfect start to the spring season.