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SUNJAY - Sunjay

SUNJAY - Sunjay
New Mountain Music NMM2014/201

Sunjay is very much the man of the moment. Not so much the flavour of the month as the flavour of the year. He seems to be appearing at every third festival, and, as I write this, has embarked on a 40 date, nationwide, headline UK tour. Not bad for a guy still just 20, who has already had a nomination for the BBC Young Folk Award, and with two previous albums under his belt.

Sunjay used to go by his full name of Sunjay Brayne, but not so long back, made the decision to jettison the surname. I guess it is the times we live in: I can remember when Oysterband still hung on to the definite article and was called The Oyster Band.

Presumably marketing criteria are somewhere near the forefront of the thinking: that said, I am not sure that Prince ever sold any more records when he decided to change his name to an unpronounceable symbol. Indeed, I doubt he did find it profitable, because in a few years he re-adopted his birth name of Prince.

That said, whatever the reasons, I defend to the death a man’s right to go down the Sunjay-only road. No doubt, he is rightly proud of the Indian heritage of his mother: and maybe he has plans to play us some ragas one day. But for the moment, anyone seeing his name and thus expecting his album will feature music redolent of the Indian subcontinent, is going to be disappointed.

Oh, there’s plenty of music from another continent alright: the Americas. And this music is indicative not so much of maternal, but paternal connections: his dad’s extensive album collection, which Sunjay has clearly played to the nth degree, and soaked up the influences.

The same dad who introduced Sunjay to the guitar at the age of just four. And in those 16 years, Sunjay has become a very accomplished guitarist indeed. Allied to a pleasant baritone singing voice that has a lower register that looks like it could really develop into something special given time, the sky would seem to be the limit for this guy.

I liked this album a lot, even if most of the songs were über familiar to me. I guess I would have liked it a lot more, had I been the same vintage as his peers: there would be something of a “tabula rasa” in me then, and the songs would all be new to my hearing. As it is, I was a bit disappointed by that fact that Sunjay is such an effective sponge: he can reproduce so faithfully what he hears on the original albums. So his version of Sailing To Philadelphia is more Mark Knopfler than Mark Knopfler! His version of No Regrets sees me close my eyes and I am back in the audience at Cambridge Folk Festival all those years ago: that’s how faithfully he resurrects Tom Rush. And we even have Don’t Mess Around With Jim sung in the same American accent of the late Jim Croce.

However with James Taylor’s You Can Close Your Eyes, Sunjay manages to avoid Taylor’s trademark sublime nasal whine: and I am thankful for that. (“Thankful” in that this is proof that he clearly can shake off the original, when he wants.)

And look: I do not knock this sponge-like ability. It is an uncanny gift that Sunjay has. But I think he is capable of putting his own stamp on a song, so much more than he does here.

And then perhaps he will be worthy of the parallels being drawn in his publicity hand-outs with the early Ralph McTell. Not that the parallels are that extravagant: frankly, Sunjay’s guitar work is already of McTell quality, and as I say above, that is some real achievement. But although the young Ralph may have adopted the surname of a blind American blues icon, the young Ralph was always Croydon to the core vocally.

All in all though, it was still a pleasure to listen to this album. And he is joined on it, by a stellar group of musicians, who never let him down.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 104 of The Living Tradition magazine.