No Beginning No End 2
Blonde Rainbow Records
José James has been one of my favourite vocalists across the last decade – and so versatile too. I’ve loved his tributes to Billie Holiday and more recently to Bill Withers which, respectively (and respectfully) show his pure jazz instincts and the warm soul in his voice. I’ve loved his albums of neo-soul originals too; R’n’B jams that never feel forced or too schmaltzy – he transcends the silliness or stickiness of any of that nonsense. The power is in the earnestness ultimately.
Here he returns to the name of his breakthrough Bluenote Records debut, No Beginning No End and if the idea of a No Beginning No End 2-title starts to feel like some dumb action film, don’t worry, the music transcends that absurdity.
Here James creates soft, sinewy funk and even takes a contender for The Worst Song Ever Written (Billy Joel’s Just The Way You Are) and makes it sound (actually) sincere, gives it a new life. It’s musical CPR, his breath blown into this dead song gives it wings.
But before that we get nice balladry of James’ own where his dreamy, creamy voice lilts over brittle drums and acoustic guitars on the opener, I Need Your Love, where he goes up-tempo pop and comfortably straddles Motown and Outkast’s Hey Ya on You Know What It Do, and where he brings shades of D’Angelo and Prince to Feels So Good – though his voice shines in a different light.
When at the piano for I Found A Love it’s the most pure balladry you’ll hear since Carole King – and he’s comfortable sharing the mic, in this case with own-right talents Lizz Wright, Laura Mula and Aloe Blacc.
I think what I love most about James, outside of the absolute sincerity, the velvet slow-burn fire of his voice, is the way he so subtly integrates moments of blues and gospel feel (Miss Me When I’m Gone), of arena-pop balladry (Saint James) and after-hours soul-groove (Take Me Home) to make a sound that is all his own. It isn’t ever jazz but you know he can be as jazzy as he needs to be, it’s not quite pure funk ever but you know he can channel that. It’s just classy. And he remains a class act.
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