Ahhhh, yes, to be young and talented. Better yet, to be young, talented and vulnerable. Not even personally knowing Sid Sriram, what is consistently striking about his approach to his material is that this is a man who wears his heart on his sleeve, if only in his art. Open and emotive, this balladeer never met a 4x4 time he didn’t like. Here is a twenty-something who takes his time to milk a lyric and display his ample gifts as a vocalist. That he appears an unlikely, if stalwartly belonging figure in soul music only lends to Sid Sriram’s mystique.
Formerly trained by the school that has given us such veteran, Grammy-winning talents as Lalah Hathaway, Quincy Jones, and Arif Mardin, Sriram joins newcomers like Esperanza Spaulding and Jessica Johnson in being Berklee College of Music’s best advertisement. A slightly accented, twenty-one year old tenor with the soul of a man twice his age, the Southeast Asian handily navigates between the worlds of R&B and soul—sometimes in the same song—on YouTube covers of such hits as Drake’s “Trust Issues” and Kanye West’s “Amazing,” but it’s on bare-knuckled piano ballads where the tenor truly shines. With over a million hits, Sid Sriram’s spare take on Frank Ocean’s “We All Try” catapulted Sriram to the music buying public’s attention and provided a strong foundation for the release of his sophomore EP following the near-cricket media coverage his fine debut, Be Easy: The Acoustic Sessions, garnered just two years before -- which is a shame, if for nothing else but Sriaram’s haunting tribute to his aunt whose gone on home on “2 Am Prayer” (<<< cop this).
The tone and tenor of Be Easy: The Acoustic Sessions evolves on A Conscious Mind: Live Sessions in ways that deepen and provide fresh textures to the sound Sriram is still developing, one that reaches back to his Eastern vocal traditions and marries it to the gospel of classic soul. The sensual atmosphere of “Fugitive Thoughts” would have been right at home on the early ‘80s ballad productions of Marcus Miller and Luther Vandross when considering songs like “Make Me a Believer” and “Other Side of the World.” Moving and balanced by the organic jazz of live musicians, Sriram demonstrates he’s most comfortable serving tales of introspection and yearning when capably backed by warm sounds. That yearning turns to a plea on the most commercially successful cut on the project, “Talk to Me,” which asks a lover to do exactly that. While one can quietly wonder if we need yet another cover of Kurt Cobain’s apparent legacy cut in “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (yes, again), Sriram slows down the already droning song to a snail’s pace but redeems himself with surprising vocal flourishes that spare it from ennui. Brighter and bolder on the metaphorical allusion enriched “Alchemy/Fountain of Youth,” Sriram is inspired, but if there is a complaint it may be that the youngster rarely lightens up or picks up the pace, both a rarity in today’s youth music, but also troublesome given the ballad heavy nature of Sriram’s overall catalog.
These complaints are trifles on an EP that announces a sensitive talent worth paying attention to. May the burgeoning technician continue to thrive and grow in his vocal craft and songwriting capacities, so promising is what he’s already delivered to-date. And, as for all that young heartache and longing inspiring the raw soul bearing that’s evident in nearly everything Sriram sings? Well, while some of that he’ll likely outgrow, may his heart and music never outgrow the transparency and intimate connection that makes it possible for him to continue to create the kind of art that’s timeless…music like this. Highly Recommended.
By L. Michael Gipson