Album Review: While You Were Sleeping by José James
Excellent, Based on 4 Critics
AllMusic - 80 Based on rating 8/10
José James is one of the most fascinating singers to appear in popular music over the last decade. On five previous recordings he's tackled jazz standards, hip-hop, neo-soul, funk, and even Moroccan gnawa. He claims that While You Were Sleeping is a synthesis of everything he loves about music citing Nirvana, Frank Ocean, Radiohead, and Junip in his list.
Whatever you want to call the new soul-jazz — a subspecies voracious enough to absorb brooding art-rock, coffeehouse folk and head-trippy electronic music along with jazz and R&B — you’d have a hard time finding a better embodiment of it than José James. A singer-songwriter working with a lean baritone and endlessly supple phrasing, he made a cool impression last year with his Blue Note Records debut, “No Beginning No End.” His second album on the label — “While You Were Sleeping,” due out Tuesday — is a leap forward, brilliant precisely for its blurriness of style. There are songs indebted to the oblique rhythmic calculus of the producer J.
A blast of Hendrixian guitar opens “While You Were Sleeping,” singer José James’s fifth album; a close cover of the hushed Al Green masterpiece “Simply Beautiful” closes it. Stretched between these sonic and iconic markers are 12 tracks with all the stylistic freedom we’ve come to expect of James — an equal aficionado of chamber jazz and left-field electro-soul club settings — and today’s swelling movement, hosted in part at Blue Note, that is reuniting disparate strands of soul, rock, and jazz traditions. Compared to James’s 2013 breakout “No Beginning No End,” this one is bigger, thicker, less sensual but arguably just as sexy.
After building an underground following with a pair of sleek, electronic-edged soul-jazz albums, José James turned mainstream heads last year with his first record for the venerable Blue Note label. "No Beginning No End" presented the singer as an old soul with new ideas; it also earned countless comparisons to D'Angelo's 2000 landmark, "Voodoo. " His foot now in the door, James actively works against such comparisons on his second Blue Note set, which sprawls almost defiantly, from the folky title track to the psychedelic "Angel" to the behind-the-beat R&B of "U R the 1.