The first thing you notice about Jaheim’s new album, Another Round, is its cover photo: the singer and the mic.
This cover is no accident. Jaheim is a singer’s singer, something that the industry seems unwilling to support in the same way it has in the past. Jaheim isn’t the best singer of his generation, but he’s pretty much the only one of his contemporaries still consistently recording, though to diminishing sales. So the cover, though probably intended to be somber, actually strikes one as defiant. As if Jaheim is defying you to doubt his voice.
Good then that this is easily Jaheim’s finest, most cohesive work. What one notices first is that his stable of writers — including Naughty By Nature’s KayGee, Carvin and Ivan, Clifton Lightly, and others — is more in tune with Jaheim’s expressive gifts, so they give him melodies that allow him to let the notes breathe.
Jaheim himself just seems at ease with the material, in stark contrast to his almost arrogant persona early in his career. Perhaps it’s because he co-wrote many of the songs, so they have that personal touch that he needs to connect to the material. Perhaps it’s maturity. Perhaps it’s that so much of Another Round explores a kind of humility that comes after you have experienced great loss and emerge with greater perspective. Doesn’t matter — he just sounds terrific.
Take second single, “Finding My Way Back”, where Jaheim expertly dissects devastation at love lost. The lyricism here is the strongest on the album (“Caught a love wave / Rode it then I wiped out / Two ships just passing in the night now / Offshore, looking for a light house”), but more than the words what you hear is how expertly Jaheim holds key notes just a split second too long to express longing. Or listen to him take it to church on “Till It Happens to You”, a gospel song of faith with just the right amount of melisma. It’s astonishing just how much Jaheim does with so little. There’s definitely the fire of gospel in his phrasing, but it is burns slow. Or listen to how he gets his Ray Charles on with the background vocalists on “Her”, interacting with them in that classic Charles call-and-response style that gives Jaheim the opportunity to unleash his passionate side.
However, good as these three songs are, “In My Hands” stands head and shoulders above them. The song itself is a piano love ballad that walks a finely modulated balance between sentiment and emotion. It’s the kind of song that if a progression or two were done differently would have wound up a maudlin power ballad. But luckily Jaheim brought his A-game. Here his debt to Luther Vandross is startlingly apparent, and yet it never feels like an imitation. It is simply the finest, most precise — yet devastatingly emotional — singing that Jaheim has done to date.
Jaheim does stumble in a few places. “II Pink Lines” is undone by a silly, albeit earnest, conceit. “Closer” fares a little better even though its sexual conceit is clumsy in execution, and the title track’s cacophonous production, messy vocal treatment, and terrible lyrics earn it the distinction of being the worst song on the album. But without question, Jaheim has made the best album of his career. It’s the album that fans of singers of Jaheim’s caliber have known he had in him and have been waiting for her. And what’s really sweet about this is that Jaheim did it with some great soul singing and songwriting. This is not an adult contemporary album with cheap pop balladry designed to show off the fact that Jaheim is blessed with one of the best voices of his generation.
Most importantly, while it does recall the best of Teddy Pendergrass, James Ingram, and Luther Vandross, you never get the sense that Another Round is anything less than a Jaheim album. And that is saying something.