José James has gone back to “contemporary R&B” on his new, appropriately titled album “Love In A Time Of Madness”. He says that “there’s a resurgence of something I haven’t seen since the ’90s or ’00s, when hip-hop, R&B, and pop were converging in really thrilling ways through folks like Tribe, Erykah Badu, or D’Angelo. There’s a whole new generation now that’s unafraid to blend it all together. The world is ready for this kind of thing again.” I totally agree with that, but at the end of the day, I wish there would have been more deeper and sexier sounds and songs like on his 2010 “Blackmagic” album which to me is still his best one by far.
Producers on his new album are Tario (nine tracks) and Likeminds (three tracks). Tario from Los Angeles has worked with Chrisette Michele, Chris Brown, or Tank in the past and the first single “Always There” was recorded and mixed at his studio in LA. The drum programming-heavy track shuffles along nicely and has this very “now” sound structure to it which is all over the charts right now. Same applies for “What Good Is Love” which has even more synths and keys and only gets the special touch through José’s inimitable voice which strangely sounds unfamiliar during the bridge here.
American singer-songwriter Mali Music (whose real name is Kortney Jamaal Pollard) is guest vocalist on “Let It Fall” who wrote the track with Tario. Another strong cut for the current charts with its alternative-folk approach, but I can’t see this tune staying alive for a longer period, mostly because of the synth-pop production style. The same routine almost ruins “Last Night” which really doesn’t do it for me.
A bit better I think are the three tracks by Likeminds which are Jesse Singer and Chris Soper who produce, mix, engineer, and write out of their Brooklyn studio and who have worked with Emily King, John Legend, Lakecia Benjamin, or Anthony Hamilton in the past. And even though they too direct José into a much more pop-oriented field, pieces like “Remember Our Love” work much better because the focus it seems is clearly on the lyric and the voice and less on surrounding sounds and creating an artificial backdrop. It’s a sweet little pop song. As is “You Know I Know” where I always have the feeling that I’ve heard that song before somewhere. And “Breakthrough”, the last of the three tracks from Likeminds, is very similar in its approach.
I still can’t get over the feeling that the choice of producers was the wrong one though. Going back to the Tario cuts, “Live Your Fantasy” is a pumped-up disco-pop tune which actually sounds like a modern-day Eurodisco cut with too many “oh-oh-ohs” thrown in. I don’t know…”Ladies Man” is like a Robin Thicke-meets-Justin Timberlake soul/funk/pop tune with José changing to falsetto which still suits him well I think, but the catchy hook of the piece is sounding too much like the light disco-funk of Kool & The Gang from later in their career. My real favorite here is the “If This World Were Mine”-type vocal and hook of “To Be With You”, a wonderful and sensual ballad where Mali Music plays some cool Wurlitzer too and where José finally has the chance to really soar. I wish there would have been more pieces like that. It is just beautiful.
I think “Closer” is totally forgettable with its cheap-sounding programming and my second-favorite cut has got to be the final song here where José duets with Oleta Adams on a big love ballad called “I’m Yours” – pretty simple, but effective. Much more effective than most of the over-produced songs on this disappointing set.