Words by Edward T. Bowser, SoulInStereo.com
Luke James’ road to his debut solo release has been long, rocky and winding. And he still has more to prove.
That’s not reflection on his talent, of course. I’ll gladly go on record right here and say that Luke James is the best male R&B vocalist in the game right now. Bar none. He has no peers.
But the pressure is still there.
After years of setbacks, deafening buzz and his 2012 mixtape Whispers In the Dark, one of the best R&B releases in the past five years, the bar has been raised impossibly high for his solo debut.
The bad news: His self-titled debut doesn’t reach those absurdly high expectations. But that certainly doesn’t mean Luke James isn’t great in its own right. That’s the good news.
I know that many fans were disappointed with the first single, “Options,” which, while solid, certainly wasn’t as imaginative and memorable as James’ early hits. That tacked-on verse from Rick Ross didn’t help – it just screamed “PLEASE add me to your radio playlists.” Trust me, “Options” is an anomaly. This album isn’t about guest stars; it’s about James’ magnificent voice.
His falsetto pierces through the atmospheric “Dancing In the Dark,” breathing energy into the moody track. “The Run” is pretty sparse – just a few keys and eerie giggles that sound like the Joker’s death scene at the end of the ’89 Batman movie. But that gives James plenty of room to push his vocals to the forefront. When his high notes soar to unimaginable heights on “I Want You,” the listener is absolutely captivated.
Conceptually, the album continues to impress. James gets tangled in temptation on “Trouble” – his voice is as alluring as the danger his girl puts him in. “Glass House” is a cautionary tale not to throw stones while “Exit Wounds” is a beautifully bitter ballad: James basically kicks down the door and tells his girl to move to the left, to the left. Even the album’s interludes are noteworthy – James cuts loose a bit on “Don’t Do It,” while “TimeX” is accented with harmonica notes, Stevie Wonder-style.
From top to bottom, Luke James is a strong, safe album worthy of praise. However, it doesn’t push creative boundaries in the ways that made his earlier releases so memorable. They set a precedent that can’t be matched.
But don’t let that take away from James’ great work here. He’s still one of the best in the game right now. This album proves it.
Best tracks: “Glass House,” “Exit Wounds,” “Trouble”
4 stars out of 5