When considering Lucid – the new album by Lyfe Jennings - the comparisons I make are not to his hip-hop and R&B age group cohorts. Instead, I look to jazz and R&B artists from a previous era such as Charlie Parker or David Ruffin. Why? Like Jennings, these artists had troubled lives that included addiction and run-ins with the law. Yet, the music they created often belied all of the difficulties they faced in their personal lives.
It’s not like Jennings spent his career running from his legal issues. His first album, the semi autobiographical Lyfe 268-192, draws its title from Jennings' prison ID number. After spending a decade in jail, Jennings released that critically acclaimed album in 2005. Jennings addressed his past on subsequent albums such as The Phoenix and Lyfe Change on tracks that managed to be real and gritty without glamourizing the street life.
Those albums also featured numbers such as “Must Be Nice” from the debut and “Midnight Train” from Lyfe Change that are sweet and tender soul songs. Jennings also proved to be the master of the musical counselor and cautionary tale spinner, as can be heard on tracks such as “S.E.X,” “It’s Real” and “Statistics” from “The Phoenix,” Lyfe Change and I Still Believe.
Jennings is the love man and balladeer on Lucid. The album’s sweet intimacy comes at a time when the raspy voiced singer once again had to confront legal issues, but the new record is the most upbeat project of Jennings’ stellar career. “I Wish” is the only track where Jennings addresses what could be considered darker themes. That track finds him telling listeners what they really mean when they wish their exes well: “I’m so sick of people. Talking about. You know how when you break up, ‘Oh, I wish you the best,’” Jennings says in during the song’s spoken word intro. The track then addresses the unspoken desire behind the respectable façade. Still, “I Wish” possesses a certain light-heartedness that comes through in the hook, “Girl I wish, oh girl I wish, nothing but bad luck, hope you never fall in love, in life/Girl I wish, oh girl I wish. You get hit by a truck. And die.” This track has the feel of Cee Lo Green’s “F--- You” or perhaps “Goody Goody,” a song made famous by Ella Fitzgerald and Frankie Lymon rather the bitter “Greedy” from Jennings’ debut.
Lucid’s ballads are all keepers. That includes the duet “17 to a Million” a lovely duet about the timelessness of true love, and the cute play on words “ABC’s,” the steppers anthem “Rock” and the confessional “Boomerang,” which is all over radio right now.
People want to see Lyfe Jennings succeed professionally and personally. He’s built a reputation as an artist who can merge street level realism with heart a heart felt longing for love and a spiritual connection. His honesty allowed him to build a loyal fan base through four albums and that streak will continue with the fifth, very good Lucid. Hopefully, Jennings will be able to pair personal contentment with his artistic accomplishments as he moves forward with his enviable career. Strongly Recommended.
By Howard Dukes