Music – these days – is free as the breeze. We don’t need the double vinyl gatefold to enjoy the latest and greatest. We can find more of the old-old stuff online now than was ever the case digging in stores. And I’ve always been across as many of the formats as I can be. A part of my soul was given away years ago when I started writing about music. A big part of it corrupted by receiving ‘free’ music when it was some sort of currency. Now I trade in it still by offering recommendations.
So I want to tell you about my new favourite. Actually, José James has been on my radar for a few years now – and he’s pretty much knocked it out of the park with every album he’s released. But his new one is something else!
This is a double live album – you can buy the CD or the LP, you can stream it here, there and pretty much everywhere…
And you can watch some clips of the performances. What a singer. And what a band. This, to me, is heart-and-soul music. At one point he starts singing about “winter in America” and he’s already evoked Gil Scott-Heron long before he takes that line and makes it both his own and a clever reference.
James was a jazz singer. That’s how I first knew him. He first really lit my world up with a tribute to Billie Holiday. You’ll probably know already that I’m such a fan of Ms. Lady Day. And though I don’t seek out tribute albums generally, nor any cover versions of Billie particularly, there was just something hypnotic about this – James’ rich voice and wise decisions, his song instincts, his way of communicating a tune. I went back to his earlier albums almost immediately. I found good things by James as a writer too. His original songs felt, in some cases, like modern classics – new soul gems.
But actually covers are most definitely a thing for James. He’s very good at them. My very first time hearing him – in fact – was on a really great record called Rising Son by Takayu Kuroda. And on that James is a guest vocalist for a rendition of Roy Ayers’ warm and wonderful Everybody Loves The Sunshine.
And a couple of years ago he released a Bill Withers tribute album. I reckon the world needed that too – Bill wasn’t ever going to do his act again, hadn’t for years. Now we don’t even have Withers (R.I.P). As with the Holiday tribute, the thing I love most about a José James cover (or set of covers) is that he’s not trying to replace the original, he’s not trying to compete with it, he’s offering his love of and for that original take in his version. You feel that. It’s impossible for me not to hear that.
So, look, I’m not rushing out the door to buy New York Live (2020) on fancy-pants vinyl. I don’t own any of James’ albums on vinyl. I probably never will. And I’ll resist any urge because I’m trying to break the cycle of absurd record collector speak when the alleged ‘ultimate’ thing one can say to prove fandom is, “I’ve got that…ON VINYL” I have no José James albums on viny! Or CD. I’m not waiting for a hipster cassette version either. I find his music on Spotify and YouTube. (I’ve been sent reviewer’s promo links too – for at least a couple of his albums). The fact that I don’t ‘own’ his music doesn’t mean he’s not as important to me as D’Angelo (more so, actually) or very nearly Prince or James Brown or, well, Bill and Billie…
And, it’s never a competition of course.
But I wanted to share his new album with you. And my belief in his career to date. My fandom too. (I’ve also reviewed recent/ish record, No Beginning No End 2, so might as well share that link in here as well eh). And look, if you ever needed anymore proof that this man can make almost anything work in a cover version he won me over with not just a Billie Joel cover (I hate Billy Joel!) but perhaps the most fucking naff Billy Joel song ever. Don’t believe me. Listen!