Vocalist José James is back with a new album on September 28th entitled Lean On Me, a heartfelt and honest twelve song tribute to the legendary Bill Withers in honor of his 80th birthday year. What began as a touring project in 2017 evolved into a full-length release produced by Blue Note president Don Was and recorded in Capitol’s legendary Studio B with a dream team band: Pino Palladino (bass), Kris Bowers (keys), Brad Allen Williams (guitar), and Nate Smith (drums), along with special guests including vocalist Lalah Hathaway, saxophonist Marcus Strickland, and trumpeter Takuya Kuroda.
“Bill wrote the songs you love your whole life,” says James. “I didn’t want to put hip-hop beats under his music or deconstruct it with 10-minute bebop solos. There was only one right move here: show up with a killer band, run the tape, capture the vibe. We just played the songs.”
James, who had already created masterful tributes to Billie Holiday and John Coltrane, went full ethnomusicologist in choosing the songs for Lean On Me, poring over Withers’ nine LPs, the 2009 Still Bill documentary, and some untold number of YouTube clips for clues ultimately obtaining Withers’ personal blessing over dinner at Hollywood’s storied Musso & Frank’s.
“Meeting Bill Withers was one of the personal highlights of my life,” says James. “He’s a total genius and one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. I learned more in that one hour with him than I learned at music school or a decade’s worth of live shows. We all adore him and any songwriter worth their salt knows that Bill is up there with Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Smokey Robinson, Carole King, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Elton John, Billy Joel – he’s in the pantheon of greats. Plus he’s an amazing singer and developed a sophisticated sound that blends funk, singer-songwriter, blues, R&B and gospel. I showed him my list of his songs and he absolutely loved it. I think he’s happy that his music still has a place in the lives and hearts of people worldwide and that we all want to celebrate his life and talent.”
You can watch the EPK for Lean On Me below as well as stream the first single “Use Me”.
1. Ain’t No Sunshine
2. Grandma’s Hands
3. Lovely Day featuring Lalah Hathaway
4. Lean On Me
5. Kissing My Love
6. Use Me
7. Who Is He
8. Hello Like Before
9. Just The Two Of Us
10. Hope She’ll Be Happier
11. The Same Love That Made Me Laugh
12. Better Off Dead
Aug. 29 – Hollywood Bowl – Los Angeles, CA
Sept. 9 – Jazz à la Villette – Paris, France
Sept. 10 – Union Chapel – London, UK
Sept. 11 – Ancienne Belgique – Brussels, Belgium
Sept. 12 – Paradiso – Amsterdam, Netherlands
Sept. 13 – Heimathafen – Berlin, Germany
Sept. 22 – Monterey Jazz Festival – Monterey, CA
Oct. 19 – Jefferson Center – Roanoke, VA
Oct. 20 – The Hamilton – Washington DC
Oct. 26 – Highline Ballroom – New York, NY
Oct. 31 – Billboard Live – Osaka, Japan
Nov. 1 – Billboard Live – Tokyo, Japan
Nov. 2 – Billboard Live – Tokyo, Japan
Nov. 8 – Garfield Theatre – La Jolla, CA
Nov. 15 – Arts Commons – Calgary, AB
Jan. 25 – Berklee Performance Center – Boston, MA
Jan. 26-Feb. 2 – Blue Note at Sea
Mar. 15 – Chicago Symphony Center – Chicago, IL
Lean On Me, the new album by vocalist José James drops September 28 on Blue Note Records.
Sébastien Hélary co-founded Nextbop in 2009 with the objective of introducing modern jazz music to a younger generation of fans. Aside from music, his other main obsession is food, particularly ramen and other Japanese delicacies.