Velour has been bustling this year after being named Utah’s best music venue in 2012 by Salt Lake Magazine. It has been hosting up-and-coming acts from around Utah and continued its tradition of being a launch pad for bands to move on to the bigger and better (think Neon Trees, Imagine Dragons, Fictionists). Of all its successes this year, Joshua James’ triumphant CD release show(s) should be counted as one of the brightest.

Like the other artists mentioned, James can thank the Velour for giving him a step up to the national level, so having his release shows there is perfectly fitting. I attended the second of the two-night event and I must say that it was James at his best.

The stage was warmed up by two singer/songwriter openers, Jay William Henderson (former frontman of Band of Annuals) and local heartthrob Isaac Russell. Both played short, but sincere and engaging sets. Henderson performed with clear and soft guitar work and vocals, backed by a beautifully wailing steel guitar to give him a rustic sound.

His earnest rendition of “The Sun Will Burn Our Eyes” was really inspirational. The only downside of the set was its unsatisfyingly short length. I was at the merch booth afterwards in line with others eager to immediately purchase Henderson’s album to quench the desire for more.

Russell lightened up the atmosphere with his casual and joke-filled stage presence. He graced the audience a couple of his acoustic folk originals and an Elliott Smith cover. Props to both for starting a good show off right. Russell has recently been playing bass for James, so he retook the stage after his solo set.

James and his band rolled out nearly every song on the new album, From the Top of Wilmette Mountain. The opening riffs of the album’s first single, “Queen of the City” were met with roaring applause. The raw rock’n’roll sound of the song is somewhat of a departure of James’ previous songwriting, but it really got people going.

Definitely one of the highlights of the show. He still favored the audience will favorites from previous albums like “FM Radio” and “Coal War” to which the fans responded with hoots, hollers and a little singing along.

James was his quirky, energetic self as he played. When songs started to really rock, his signature swooning and shaking was just fun to watch. The best I’ve heard the style described is ‘slinky meets worm.’ No matter what you want to call it, I certainly haven’t seen anyone pull off moves like his. Lyrical themes of the night: questioning the existence of God, complicated love, Jesus’ second coming, and living off the land. How’s that for a Thursday night?

Between two of the songs, James said that this was one of the greatest nights of his life. I believed him when he said it; being so overwhelmingly welcomed back to the stage in your hometown before heading out on a national tour has got to feel good.

Check out the video below for a taste of the other night of Joshua James’ CD release celebration.