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For Your Consideration: Jose James' 'No Beginning No End'

Alexander Brown
Staff Writer
alexanderparisbrown@gmail.com / @relaxandaspire
photo by Janette Beckman

There is a very good reason to listen to No Beginning No End, Jose James' latest album-- it's different and it's good.

The album doesn't introduce a huge departure of James' typical work or sound. But it is that oeuvre which sets him apart from a great deal of current popular artists. Turn on the radio right now and you will hear mostly castrated males' sad attempts at crooning, by-the-numbers dance pop, and the detritus left in the wake of Beyoncé's crowning as Queen of Pop. Add to that the slew of rappers who seem to have taken as their spiritual mentors Bobby Brown and Marky Mark and you've got a musical culture which goes seemingly nowhere.

Every year we try to convince ourselves that it's going to get better. But until information technology achieves some kind of parity regardless of income, terrestrial radio and television are going to be the point of reference in culture for the majority of people in this country. Just check out how the Grammy Awards went. The song that most annoyed you in its persistence last year won big [Editor's note: it even won Prince over]. And the disconnect between what blogs and columns hyped and what won is astral.

In that light, one of the things we have to comes to grips with is this black indie music sphere that exists mostly outside easily reachable pop culture (Jimmy Fallon and The Roots being the exception). It encompasses more than just the next big hip-hop enclave or the newest R&B persona with punk rock overtones. Much of it is just the really good music that fits in no easily identifiable category. Take Robert Glasper's Black Radio, which was nominated in the R&B section of this year’s Grammy's and ultimately took the prize, or all of Solange's albums. Then too, take No Beginning No End.

The album comes off as the unproduced love-child/follow-up to the promises of D'Angelo and Erykah Badu post-mid-nineties. It's straightforward, which makes it easily acceptable for the nuance-lacking audiences of today. And in a familiar way, James' dulcet tones echo those of the preacher's kid who stepped away from the church and made sanctuary in a cigar and whiskey bar. I’d be surprised if this album did not rate as a favorite among wedding planners for the first nuptial dance this year.

Of course, that seamless blending of contemporary jazz, classic R&B, and a smattering of hip-hop is partly due to the contributions of bassist Pino Palladino and Robert Glasper on this album. Like with much of the neo-soul canon, Palladino substantially shaped the grooves of the album. Given the short timeframe between this album and Glasper’s last, and the promises of a new D’Angelo album, it wouldn’t be too hard to imagine a neo-soul revival hitting pop music in the coming years.

If James had been a part of the late-Stax era, or had to compete with Bill Withers, I could probably lose him in the crowd. But for those of us who miss the more soulful acts of pop music No Beginning No End is right time, right place.

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Alexander Brown is a freelance writer. More of his work is available at his blog, Relax and Aspire.