With a brooding introduction via the guitar strings, the stately melody that will power The Real J Israel’s incredible juggernaut “A Better Me” comes into focus ready to crater anything that comes in its path. Israel begins to sing, his voice tainted with a hesitance that will grow into a rather endearing quality as we press forward, but there’s nothing but assertiveness in his lyrics.
He straddles the rhythm of the music carefully, taking special care to leave a little space between himself and the strings, and amidst all of the harmonious synchronization there emerges a melodic contrast that is perhaps even more fetching than any of the instrumental components are on their own. “A Better Me” is a track that demands a lot out of The Real J Israel’s skillset, as does its counterpart in Glass Half Full, but despite the intricacies of the compositions at hand, our leading man breaks off one of the more exciting harmonies of the winter season in this latest single, which is being regarded by some critics as being among the best in singer/songwriter content to see widespread release this month.
On the flip side, the second song “I Am Me” is much more pendulous in tempo and not quite as decadent in design, but it isn’t lacking in charisma at all. It’s the more haunting of the two, mostly because of its lightly reverberated vocal element, which almost ironically lingers behind Israel’s words without ever dragging on the overall rhythm of the music. I like that the master mix on this song is a little more cerebral in concept, because when combined with what we hear in “A Better Me,” this two-track EP contains some of the most alluring elements in the artist’s sound.
He’s not holding anything back from us here, and for as diverse a sonic profile as he’s got, there’s no division in his style at all whatsoever; this is a statement release and a fine one at that. It would be very interesting to see how both of these songs would translate in live performances, as they’ve got a certain pop centerpiece that would (at least from where I sit) sound a lot more homespun if Israel were to strip away all of the varnish lent from the studio in this instance. The framework is solid, and that’s what counts the most in this style of music.
I wasn’t very familiar with The Real J Israel’s discography before giving this EP a spin just recently, but I plan on exploring his work a little more now.
He’s got a lot in common with the current alt-singer/songwriter movement, yet his style of play is indebted more to chic, cosmopolitan folk-rock melodies than it is anything in the more pastoral realm of roots music. With a little more time and experience under his belt, I think that he’ll have the cred to take his music to the mainstream, but for the moment I would have to rank him among the more fascinating voices to be emerging from the underground. 2023 is right around the corner and provided Israel can stay on this present trajectory, my gut tells me that he’s going to be making a lot more headlines in the next year ahead.