Music

José James Amplifies His Debut with 'No Beginning No End 2'

Photo: Janette Beckman / Courtesy of Girlie Action Media

José James has a rich, velvety voice that simmers and smolders. He takes it easy in a seductive way. The vibe is romantic and sexy on No Beginning No End 2.

No Beginning No End 2
José James

Rainbow Blonde

6 March 2020

Back in 2013, singer-songwriter José James' debut album for Blue Note, No Beginning No End, made waves because of how he creatively combined jazz, soul, R&B, gospel, and funk into smooth pop music without diluting any of its essential elements. He successfully crossed over and garnered fans from across the spectrum. He's continued to experiment musically, but now he's back to his past tricks on the appropriately entitled No Beginning No End 2. Old fans will find much to love here and no doubt he will garner many new ones, too as a result.

James has a rich, velvety voice that simmers and smolders. He takes it easy in a seductive way. The vibe is romantic and sexy. No doubt that some of his popularity derives from the way his music could serve as a soundtrack for lovemaking. As song titles such as "Feels So Good", "I Need Your Love", and "You Know What It Do" suggest, James understands what his audience is doing. But this is more than just mood music for lovers.

James imaginatively combines different rhythms and melodies within each of his songs. Take a simple example. "Turn Me Up" begins with a funky bass and drums groove. The vocalist tells us he's feeling good. The song then takes a twist and starts to soar with long lines as James says he's "gonna spread my wings and fly". He makes the transitions so naturally that the musical distance the song has traveled isn't noticeable until it's over. This shows his jazz roots as he can improvise without losing the main thread to create something both simple and complex, recognizable, but different.

This is a pop record. James' performance of the Billy Joel "Just the Way You Are" transforms the sappiness of the original into something more passionate. James' version begins with a simple banging of a single note on the piano reminiscent of Harry Nilsson's classic ode "One". It's unclear if James is deliberately referencing to the tune or if the connection is merely serendipitous, but it fits thematically and musically. There are no syrupy/blaring horns here, as in the Joel rendition. This is a calmer affair. When James croons, "I never want to work that hard", one believes him, which makes the love he professes more believable and real.

James worked with several collaborators on the new disc, including Aloe Blacc, Ledisi, Laura Mvula, and Lizz Wright. His backup band consists of Brett Williams, Kris Bowers, and Takeshi Ohbayashi on keys; Marcus Machado, Alan Hampton, and co-producer Brian Bender on guitar; Ben Williams on bass; and Justin Brown and Jamire Williams on drums; and Alberto Lopez on percussion. No Beginning No End 2 is James' first release on Los Angeles-based Rainbow Blonde, an independent record label and collective founded by James, Talia Billig, and Brian Bender.

While the album title suggests it has no beginning and no end (which is reinforced by the fact that this is part two with the possibility of further records to come), there is a unity to the disc. James' distinctively smooth voice ties a dozen tracks together. The individual songs mostly tell us he's looking for love, just found it, or regrets losing it, but his faith in love remains constant.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.

Music

​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.

Music

Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.

Music

Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.

Music

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.

Music

Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.

Music

Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.

Music

Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Film

Alastair Sim: A Very English Character Actor Genius

Alastair Sim belongs to those character actors sometimes accused of "hamming it up" because they work at such a high level of internal and external technique that they can't help standing out.

Music

Joe Hertler & the Rainbow Seekers Head "Underwater" in New Video (premiere)

Celebrating the first anniversary of Paper Castle, folksy poppers Joe Hertler & the Rainbow Seekers release an uplifting new video for opening track, "Underwater".

Music

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's New LP Is Lacking in Songcraft but Rich in Texture

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's The Mosaic of Transformation is a slightly uneven listen. It generally transcends the tropes of its genre, but occasionally substitutes substance for style.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.