José James – No Beginning No End 2

 

Title: No Beginning No End 2  
Artist: José James  
Label: Rainbow Blonde  
Formats: CD, LP, Digital 
Release date: March 6, 2020  

 

José James’ No Beginning No End 2, a sequel to his 2013 Blue Note debut album, resurrects the eclecticism audiences first fell in love with. Back then, the singer-songwriter was transitioning from Verve Records to Blue Note, and the new release finds James shifting to his own Rainbow Blonde label. ”There’s this beautiful cycle that’s happening again,” James explains. “This essence of it is what I wanted to get back — the idea of courage, freedom, real quality music that’s made without boundaries but still had a cohesive quality. That’s what I did on the first (No Beginning No End), and this one feels the same way.” With No Beginning No End 2, James pays homage to a multitude of musicians who inspired him.   

The album is full of collaborators, including Laura Mvula, Aloe Blacc, Ledisi, Lizz Wright, Erik Truffaz, and Hindi Zahra, with the backing of a wildly talented band held down by rhythm sections in Los Angeles and Brooklyn. The dozen songs on offer here continually contrast aspects of James’ seemingly limitless musical persona: from funky neo-soul to smooth ballads to adventurous R&B, imaginatively combining different rhythms and melodies within each of his songs.  

As an example, “Turn Me Up” is James’ single with a funk inducing bass and a layer of drums. Resulting from a session with Grammy winners Pino Palladino and Ben Williams, the overall energy that pervades the song is rich, relaxing, and celebratory. James’ smooth baritone voice, accompanied by Blacc’s harmony and lyrical echoing, rides breezily above the rhythm section, transitioning through both simple and complex ideas so naturally that the musical distance the song has traveled isn’t noticeable until it’s over. This track also shows off James’ jazz roots as he improvises without losing the main thread, ultimately creating something both simple and complex, recognizable, but different.  

“Just The Way You Are,” James’ soulful reworking of a Billy Joel classic, pays homage while still maintaining that modern style that permeates the album. When compared to the Joel rendition, there are no syrupy/blaring horns here and the tempo is quite slow, leading to a calmer, more passionate atmosphere. When James croons, “I never want to work that hard”, one believes him, which makes the words he communicates more real. “Feels So Good” is pure disco, with James exuding Bobby Caldwell cool as he trades lines with newcomer Cecily. The general vibe of the album is romance, with songs like ”I Need Your Love” and “You Know What It Do” easily tying this theme of love together with a collaboration of masterfully constructed musical characteristics.  

No Beginning No End 2 pays reverence to the great black American music of the 20th century. While there is little experimentation or innovation in this album, the classic instrumentation, arrangements, and old-school recording techniques, combined with the sheer number of amazing guest artists, will leave you pining for more.   

Reviewed by Jared Walker