The debut album Tales of America by 26-year-old Kenyan J.S. Ondara bursts out of nowhere into the folk-rock scene of the motherland of folk. Ok not quite, but as good as out of nowhere. After all, the young singer with his tenor voice, which occasionally turns into a falsetto, has already been heard in bars and at "Open Mic" events. A green card lottery won the 20-year-old, who taught himself to sing as well as play the guitar, access to the Promised Land, to Minneapolis in the state of Minnesota, where one of his two role models, Bob Dylan, spent the last ten years of his singing life. His other role model was Jeff Buckley, who was tragically killed at a young age after his debut album Grace. The newcomer from Kenya has yet to achieve the fame of his role models. Whether he will succeed will be seen, since the quality of Tales of America is quite ambivalent.
The credit side of the album includes "American Dream" with African folksong echoes and its subliminal longing for the land of his fathers. The straight guitar and bass-accompanied "Torch Song" also belongs to the credit side, at least before J.S. Ondara turns into a tremulous falsetto singing with a rather uncertain intonation. "Television Girl" goes through as a skillfully staged folk ballad, in which even the falsetto succeeds harmoniously. With a lower voice, J.S. Ondara’s exotic solo piece "Turkish Bandana", strongly enriched with reverb, proves its chocolate side, which skillfully includes the falsetto. “Good Question" also belongs to the category of successful songs.
With a rather hesitant, flickering voice the other songs on the debut album don't cut off so favorably. A clearly positive exception is "God bless America", the last song on the album, which contributes conciliatorily to forget those songs which are vocally partly close to the annoying, in view of the successful songs as a probably avoidable by-catch of a successful fishing.
J.S. Ondara has potential. One can only wish him for a successful future as a folk singer competent producer who make sure that only songs of high quality are released. By the way, the acoustic realization of this album leaves nothing to be desired.
J.S. Ondara, guitar, vocals