DJ Frances Jaye

DJ Frances Jaye

    When one of the leading influencers in the indie soul music movement releases her own compilation project, you already know certain elements are to be expected. One can expect that the voices are going to be on point. Check. You can expect the songs to be highly melodic and catchy with an infectious groove. Check, check. Certainly, from a professional crate digger like DJ Frances Jaye, fresh talent we have not heard from before -- or who prove obscure for the average music fan -- will suddenly be discovered through standout showcases that make one check out their catalogs. Triple check. On every expectation, DJ Frances Jaye and the caravan of fresh talent she hand-delivers to us quality starved music heads rise to the challenge on Head Space, Vol 1.

    A champion of neo- and indie soul music since the century began, Jaye has been a fixture in the movement through her Neo-Soul Café blog and radio show raising those artists with a lesser profile to star status and treating them accordingly. An in-demand spinmeister out of Dallas, TX, it’s amazing Jaye found the time to curate 11 original songs that pass her smell taste’s discerning ear. If there is a unifying feel to this collection of thumpers or a DJ Frances Jaye sound, so to speak, it’s a subtle lean into songs heavy in mid-tempo grooves, layered harmonies, distinctive voices, and ironclad melodies that stick. The era most evoked is one immediately following the height of ‘90s smooth soul and hip hop soul, when their lingering residue was still present in radio’s sound but a sense of experimentation and play with arrangement was more pronounced -- even as artists stayed true to the confines of the then traditional R&B song structure. The majority of Jaye’s current Head Space reflects the best of that time at the start of the millennium leading into the mid-aughts, when soul began its fluidity.

    The first eight grooves are loyal to these feels and constraints, providing a consistent urban adult contemporary listening experience that never feels dated or stale, even when it allows rare moments of heavy auto-tuning and vocoder work, as with Deonis’s “Last Close Up (featuring Erreon Lee).” Starting off with V’s chill lounge influenced “Lift Off,” the production finds a sweet balance between spotlighting the artist’s clean vocal and the percussive soundscape surrounding his apt instrument.

    “I Don’t Love You” features an agile Miracle Foster, whose pipes recall Jazmine Sullivan in melisma, Maysa Leak in phrasing, and pure Miracle Foster in the passionate heat brought to this declarative song and instant hit. Heads will catch the familiar interpolation of “I don’t love you no more” from Keyshia Cole’s Kanye West produced “I Changed My Mind” and Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic (Intro)” (which itself references Solomon Burke’s 1968 cover of Lee Dorsey’s "Get Out of My Life, Woman”), here made to be a thorough examination of how fed up Foster is with this man. Synth heavy in a bright style reminiscent of The Foreign Exchange’s Nicolay’s productions, Maleke O’Ney’s “Bright Side of Love” delivers what may be the youngest sound of Head in a cut that twinkles and flirts with the ear with a lilting girlishness. On a particularly muscular offering, Darien Dean brings the collection back toward its more unifying sound with a tenor reminiscent of artists like Glenn Jones and Peabo Bryson set against a backdrop of orchestral hip hop soul on the bouncy “Ur the 1.” Each song keeping listener’s rapt attention and fingers away from fast forward.

    Another standout on the collection is perhaps one that is the most unexpected and adventurous: Kierion Johnson’s “Off Your Throne” smoothly rolls out a relentless and clear flow of sing-talking rap that just burst through the speakers in its silkiness. It’s helped along with a wash of strings, doo wop harmonies, and a subtly driving rhythm session of guitar, drums, and percussion that conjures ‘60s-era California soul, mid-‘90s granola hip hop, and endless sunshine. The West Coast personifying cut is a dizzying discovery that could easily have an extended life on film and TV and marks Johnson as a talent to watch. 

    The blissful run concludes with the more deconstructed astral soul of Lawyer Turner’s crooning “Us,” and doesn’t resume again until the musically uneven, but lyrically memorable “For The Weekend” by Blythe Dennis. Ensuing cuts by Porsche Smith, Amanda Maxfield, and Steve Frazier suffer from a mid-range sameness and a derivativeness that is listenable enough to play Jaye’s whole collection straight through but prove unexceptional tracks when pitted against the best of the collection’s sterling eight song run of musical diversity, surprises, and supremacy.

    That DJ Frances Jaye brilliantly curated a playlist for grown folks that resisted the schmaltzy, sleepy, and, largely, the overly familiar, while still maintaining a consistent, head nodding groove for musically discriminating heads is worthy of celebration, streaming, and most of all, your coin. Highly recommended. 

    By L. Michael Gipson

    Available Music