Brian McKnight - Just Me (2011)

Brian McKnight

brianmcknight-justme.jpg

Click on CD cover
to listen or purchase

He’s tall, dark and handsome, with a voice like crushed velvet, an ability to play almost a dozen instruments and a profitable proclivity to write lyrics that have earned him millions in album sales. Not only has he amassed an impressive list of songwriting, production and collaboration credits, his name has become all but synonymous with romantic R&B. Thanks to his longevity (nearly twenty years worth) and versatility as a performer (stage productions, Broadway, and radio show hosting, etc.), Brian McKnight couldn’t be blamed if he decided to fall back a bit; but instead, the melismatic maestro puts that name and reputation on the line in an effort to include the newest McKnight generation, returning ----with a pair of his musically-inclined sons in tow---for his eleventh CD, the dubiously-titled Just Me.

He’s tall, dark and handsome, with a voice like crushed velvet, an ability to play almost a dozen instruments and a profitable proclivity to write lyrics that have earned him millions in album sales. Not only has he amassed an impressive list of songwriting, production and collaboration credits, his name has become all but synonymous with romantic R&B. Thanks to his longevity (nearly twenty years worth) and versatility as a performer (stage productions, Broadway, and radio show hosting, etc.), Brian McKnight couldn’t be blamed if he decided to fall back a bit; but instead, the melismatic maestro puts that name and reputation on the line in an effort to include the newest McKnight generation, returning ----with a pair of his musically-inclined sons in tow---for his eleventh CD, the dubiously-titled Just Me.

The inclusion of with Brian Jr. and Niko (fledgling artists who perform under the moniker BRKN RBTZ) is a professional switch for Mr. McKnight that yields both hits and misses, as the two have joined their father at the control board and are, apparently, still fine-tuning their skills as co-producers and co-writers. Whether he intended to or not, Mr. McKnight has ultimately pared down his artistic sensibilities (read, his ‘swag’) to not overwhelm their amateur musicianship: it’s a generous gesture on his part, mind you, but even his most devoted listeners will struggle to embrace the uneven efforts created by this fumbling family affair.  

Luckily, some of the numbers do work:  mellow mid-tempos and Quiet Storm balladry convey the heart’s yearnings (the nimble “Gimme Yo Love”), proclamations (“End And The Beginning”) and even apprehension, explored as a member of a love triangle in the thoughtful “Just Lemme Know” (“Things you tell me, I do believe/that you love me, but right now, you can’t leave. Lately I’ve been feeling like the one you’ve been deceiving/what do you want from me?”). “Fall,” the collection’s first single, is a confession that he both dreads, and anticipates, falling in love: “Got my back against the wall, it’s like I’m standing ten feet tall/on the ledge, too close to call, if you push, I just might fall.” “Temptation,” a duet between the older and younger Brians, has an airy, exotic twist and describes, in tenors that blend almost too well, an irresistible femme fatale ready to pounce. 

The moments that fall short are because of aimlessness or execution: “Husband,” raucous and guitar-driven, rails against his ‘other man’ status, but loses impact thanks to its stilted and self-conscious delivery;  a cover of Wham!’s signature smash, “Careless Whisper,” is so lethargic that it’s downright infuriating, and other songs, such as “One Mo’ Time” and “Without You,” hover between sappy and sweet.  The height of irony is that the bonus disc, a sprawling full-length live recording of a recent concert performance, plays like a mini “greatest hits” (“Should Woulda Coulda,” “Love of My Life,” “Find Myself In You,” “Never Felt This Way,” etc.) and may end up being preferred over his latest, since the bulk of his catalog makes the ten new tracks pale in comparison. It’s a good thing that Brian McKnight is willing, as a parent and mentor, to pass the torch, but the potential of his offspring simply isn’t developed enough to  validate co-writing and co-producing an entire CD. After another tour or two, perhaps….?

The way the CD ends is also the way it should’ve been crafted throughout, with the Lauded Love Man combining his two strongest assets---- instrumentation and vocalizing--- into song. “I may not be all, that you hoped I would be/ but I am…. just me.” Hopefully, Brian McKnight will remember that creed when he enters the studio again, realizing that his sound is his hard-earned brand and not to be tinkered with, not even by his well-meaning flesh and blood. Brian Jr. and Niko, as they carve their own niches in the field, will do better to blossom apart from the overwhelming legacy of Dad. Following the same musical paths as a family can be ideal, but not when the players are stumbling over one another in the process. Cautiously Recommended.

By Melody Charles

 

 
Video of the Month - Kea Michaels - "Not My Friend"
Choice Cut - Chris Jasper - "Have I Told You Lately"
Song of the Month - Tracy Cruz - "Your Love's Everything"

Leave a comment!