Jai Black: Love Is

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Posted September 13, 2010 by J Matthew Cobb in Reviews 1.0

jaiblack00For a U.S. debut, Jai Black run to the hills to produce a covers-only album. However it does reveal a singer comfortable with romantic soul music

On his debut Love Is, Jai Black – a new tenant to the burgeoning Atlanta music scene – gravitates to soul classics honoring the mystique of romance and good love while also reaching back to grab a few obscure tracks from present-day trend setters. The twelve-track album, not to be confused with Ruben Studdard’s 2009 Love Is release, predominately puts Black front and center in a systematic dichotomy that allows him to play with hip-hop and indie soul. Other times, he’s fidgeting with his rock influences and other niche forms as he pulls on the John Legend style.

After fronting the UK indie R&B group Metropolis, it seems that his tenure and stay in Europe has rubbed off on his vocal skills and technique. Ric Atari produces the entire set (except for “Jesus Is Love”), bringing in wise choices of authentic guitar performers like Debra Killings and Tomi Martin to help saturate more organic textures. His pipes are generous to the ear, even offering a greater seduction to the appealing love songs. But some of the songs get lost in its modern-age translation due to milder productions. “Never Too Much” is missing much of its addictive funk. Even the John Mayer remake of “Your Body Is a Wonderland,” which satisfies Black’s growing pop demands and gleams with delicious guitar acoustics, loses much of its original playfulness and overjoyed Nashville-pop sentiments. The musical arrangement on the Anita Baker classic “Good Love” sounds like its been mixed at a lower bit rate, although the orgasmic psychedelic guitar gives the song an Isley Bros. seasoning.

Soaring above the passable tracks is his remake of Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall gem “I Can’t Help It.” MJ had no problem on the original – exuding a sensualness that permeated Quincy Jones’s contemporary jazz Quiet Storm arrangement, accredited to his flawless falsetto. Black takes on a tough assignment of reviving the overlooked charmer, even if Ruben Studdard reminded us of the song’s greatness on his Love Is album. It is a stunner of a disappointment to know that both Studdard and Black rediscovered the song around the same time, but Black may have the advantage here by not over-exercising his notes with DeBarge execution and doing a better job gliding with the summery vibes. “All U Need Is Love,” surprisingly, is a cool and respectable rendition of the Beatles’ 1967 gem. Ironically, it’s the only song that musically sounds out of place from the R&B majority. “Distant Lover” and “Don’t Say Goodnight” are rewarding contributions, for nostalgia sake. But it causes a bit of a whimper for R&B enthusiasts when pointing out the never-ending vinyl crackles and copy-and-paste arrangement of the original on the Isley Brothers’ offering and how “Distant Lover” easily mirrors its predecessor.

Jai Black has a bright future ahead of him. It’s hard to see that now when your solo debut is a collection of revisits. The way to commercializing a new artist is by branding their style and personality. When you’ve been delivered with a tray of vintage hors d’oeuvres, it’s just hard to capitalize on that once-in-a-lifetime moment. But Love Is remains a suitable experience, well versed in the traditions of modern songbook compilations. It just needed that extra burst of creative juice, some heftier production and new material to circumvent all the oldies.

J MATTHEW COBB

HIFI DETAILS

  • Release Date: 23 Mar 2010
  • Label: Blacktree
  • Producers: Ric Atari, Rich Rolle, Monyea Crawford, Tomi Martin, Jai Black, Seth Warren
  • Track Favs: I Can’t Help It, Don’t Say Goodnight, All U Need Is Love

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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