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José James: Lean On Me

Franz A. Matzner By

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Already known for his crisp production values, astute musicianship and eclectic presentations, Jose James delivers again with his tribute to Bill Withers, Lean on Me. The album reaffirms James' signature attention to stylistic pastiche while further refining his thematic focus on the subtleties of human relationships.

Here James' narcotic blend is simultaneously steeped in tradition and floats at the horizon of modernity. The beats penetrate with unabashed eroticism. James' voice coos with soul and cuts with the dirty edge of rock 'n roll. The music twists with jazz's precision and artistry as James uses the 12 selections to traverse the landscape of the American vocal tradition.

The journey begins with the slinky, bluesy "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone," setting the tone of masterful execution, overt sensuality, and reconceptualization. The poetic "Grandma's Hands" follows, articulating an emotional eulogy to grandmothers. As is often the case with James' work, the piece is infused with a larger element of social commentary.

James then executes a tonal pivot to the uplifting, pop-ish "Lovely Day" before approaching the titular "Lean on Me." James' powerful vocals matched by the shrewd arrangement deftly convert the original into a humanistic hymn that resonates particularly strongly during these fraught times.

From there, the album continues to deliver surprises, from the captivating rendition of "Just the Two of Us" to the sizzling confessional "Better off Dead," which concludes Lean on Me with its strikingly poetic portrait of male regret and loss.

Lean On Meis as pleasurable a listen as it is a potent honoring of a master singer and song writer.

Track Listing: Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone; Grandma's Hands; Lovely Day; Kissing My Love; Use Me; Who is He; Hello Like Before; Just the Two of Us; Hope She'll Be Happier; The Same Love that Made me Laugh; Better off Dead.

Personnel: Jose James: vocals; Pino Palladino: bass; Kris Bowers: keys; Brad Allen Williams: guitar; Nate Smith: drums; Marcus Strickland: saxophonist; Takuya Kuroda: trumpet; Lalah Hathaway: guest vocalist.

Title: Lean On Me | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Blue Note Records

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