During the 1980s and 1990s, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis were the hottest dance and urban-pop producers and songwriters. They innovated a distinct sound that married funk, soul, disco, and the neon-lit synthpop of the 1980s. Emerging from the constellation of music stars from Prince’s Minneapolis sound, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis were members of the fabulous funk band, the Time. The duo crafted some of the most enduring pop and R&B hits of the 1980s and ’90s, working with artists like Alexander O’Neal, Cherrelle, New Edition, Mary J. Blige, Usher, even the Human League and Pia Zadora. Their most famous and most acclaimed work was with Janet Jackson. First joining her in 1986 for her classic album Control, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis embarked on a remarkably consistent and successful streak with Jackson, writing and producing her hit, multi-platinum albums, and gold-selling hit records.
After writing and producing for four decades, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis hope to take center stage with their first headlining studio album, Jam & Lewis: Volume One. Released on their imprint label, Flyte Tyme Records, Jam & Lewis call upon their famous friends to sing on these ten new tracks. Each of the singers on the album has a history with the duo, and there’s a natural ease and chemistry on the songs. Artists such as Mary J. Blige, Usher, Toni Braxton, and former Time frontman Morris Day appear. The most glaring absence is Jackson. In fact, it’s a bit distracting. But fans shouldn’t be too worried because there’s another diva on the album: Mariah Carey, who performs on the album’s best track.
Though Jam and Lewis are still great tunesmiths, their impact has lessened in the past few years, and their sound doesn’t feel as groundbreaking anymore. And even if Jam & Lewis contain some fantastic music, it doesn’t measure up with their greatest triumphs. But there are still some wonderful moments on the album that make it a great listen.
The set’s most notable track is the third single, “Somewhat Loved (There You Go Breakin’ My Heart)”, which is easily the best song on the album. After their work with Janet Jackson, some of the most appealing work by Jam & Lewis is with Carey, and this song doesn’t disappoint. The legendary pop icon sounds relaxed and gorgeous on the song. Jam & Lewis weave together some beautiful sounds: gently pulsing synths, shimmery keyboards, and some understated studio effects that make for a lilting, hypnotic tune. And Carey does wonders, her whistle singing floating like glittery hummingbirds.
Another winning tune on Jam & Lewis is the grooving “Do What I Do”, featuring Charlie Wilson. His soulful croon practically glides on the glassy, smooth midtempo, disco-flecked production. It’s the closes thing to a dance song (a shame since Jam & Lewis were brilliant dance-pop makers). And the silky, satiny instrumentation on “Spinnin’” creates an appealing juxtaposition with Mary J. Blige’s impassioned and gritty vocals.
But too much of Jam & Lewis is devoted to slow jams and ballads, which means the energy level on the album remains low. Songs like “The Next Best Day” (with Boyz II Men), “He Didn’t Know Nothin’ Bout It” (with fellow super producer Babyface), and “Maybe I’ve Changed (Or Did You” (with Heather Headley) all sound beautiful and are well-performed but create a bit of a drag.
Though some of the songs start to sound a bit uniform, Jam & Lewis smartly end the record on an uptempo tune, “Babylove” which reunited them with Morris Day and Jerome – two of the most charismatic performers to have graduated from Prince’s Paisley university of pop stardom. The song’s production is a ’90s-sounding soul jam with muscular jeep beats. It’s an exciting song and makes listeners long for more songs like this.
The title of the album implies that there will be a follow-up. That’s a very exciting prospect because, as proven by their brilliant track record, Jam & Lewis are fantastic producers and songwriters, and it will be great to see how they bring on for this album’s sequel. As shown with their brilliant collaboration with Mariah Carey, they can still produce magic when making music with old friends. Here’s hoping that Janet Jackson will make an appearance on volume two.