Album Review: Have a Nice Day

This review was submitted by longtime fan Adrian Murray.

Reagan James refuses to be pigeon-holed. The 17-year old singer songwriter, coming off the success of her debut album "Remedy", has just released her genre-defying follow-up "Have a Nice Day." It's clear Reagan has little interest in conforming to any prepackaged musical style. Like her idol Amy Winehouse, she's determined to forge her own path and perfect a style that's hers and hers alone. If that means pushing the envelope to the breaking point and beyond, so be it. Listening to “Have a Nice Day” is like opening up a treasure chest and sifting through all the wondrous sparkling jewels inside.

“Remedy” was in turns uplifting (Traveling Blind), heartbreaking (Bury Me), romantic (In Awe), gut wrenching (The Letter) and all things in between – made all the more remarkable knowing that she was only 12 or 13 when she wrote most of the songs, much too young to have actually experienced the life events she sings about (at least one would think). More than anything else perhaps she displayed a gifted ability to paint pictures with words: “The wind blows for you, swaying forest floors back and forth, all up and dancing for you” (from In Awe). That album’s best cut, in my opinion anyway, was Need to Breathe, with its heart-stopping lyric “Fill my lungs with your love, I’ll inhale slowly.” Did I mention she was 14 when she released “Remedy”?

“Have a Nice Day” is both an extension of and a departure from “Remedy.” Perhaps in the ensuing three years she’s had a chance to live some of the highs and lows she sang about in the first album. It kicks off with the gritty urban sound of Waterfalls, which appears to be about overcoming internal struggles: “This ain’t a game, the price ain’t right, write my wrongs all night every night.” The waterfalls of the title seem to represent her tears in the refrain: “Going down in waterfalls, cause I can’t get you back.” 

There’s something sweet and maybe even slightly risqué about Pick Up the Phone, which has the singer alone in her room apparently speed dialing her lover: “Let’s not and say we did doesn’t work tonight, we’ve gotta get the art of love just right.” The song contains some classically Reagan lyrics (“I’m the penny in your pocket, I’m the book you never read.”) It’s a breezy, jazzy R&B delight.

Breaking the Bank, Lullaby and Lipstick Stains are all solid tunes delivered in the unique Reaganesque style, a mix of blues, jazz and funk. Fans will not be disappointed. After all, who could ignore a song that starts off with “Gonna buy a pistol just to shoot you down, it’s about 12 o’clock, dreaming of a shiny Glock, right against your temple, it’s simple…don’t you leave this bed.” Yikes. (I’ll leave it to Reagan to reveal the mysteries of Lipstick Stains, with its refrain of “Freckles and cocaine.” Still, it’s one of her most tunefully infectious songs.

But I want to skip ahead to three of the most remarkable songs I have heard not just from Reagan but from anyone. 7 is the most accomplished song she has ever written. I have not yet been able to adequately describe it. It’s a vampy, smoky song that could easily have been slipped into the soundtrack of Cabaret or Victor Victoria. You’ll have to suspend belief that she’s only 17 when she hits you over the head with a line like, “There’s only 7 deadly sins and I’ve got one life to live. Slow down, let’s take our time.” If I read the song right (leave it to Reagan to write in a way that can have multiple meanings), the singer is warning a rival to stay away from her man (“Don’t listen, he doesn’t love you, he never did.”) Whether she’s warning a rival or herself, it’s a deep, lush joyride of a song.

Stranger is a heartbreaking song about betrayal and loss. The words are so real and her voice so plaintive you can’t help but hope that this is a pain that she never actually endured, that it’s just her imagination at work. It’s that devastating.

The album closes with what could be considered a nod to Amy. It’s a fitting ending. I’m Not a Mess finds Reagan being called by “the road less traveled” and repeating the chorus, “I’m not a mess, oh, no, no.” It’s a road very familiar to Reagan, who insists on being her own person, a singular artist blazing her own trail, even if along the way she knows she will encounter disappointment and heartache, love and betrayal, joy and sadness. That she bares her soul like this is her special gift to all of us, for we all experience these emotions but don’t necessarily have the means to express them, much less understand them. Reagan’s voice is a healing voice, telling us that she understands, she’s been there too, and don’t worry, you’ll get through it all and at the end of the day you’ll find the key and let yourself back in.

No, Reagan, you’re not a mess.

You’re a saint.

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"Have a Nice Day" will be available on iTunes and all digital stores January 29, 2016.

© Reagan James | 2015