Jagged Edge - J. E. Heartbreak II (2014)

Jagged Edge
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If they've lasted long enough to acquire airplay and a following, every band or group has 'That One', as in 'That One Album/CD' that best capitalized the artist’s signature sound and/or revealed enough potential to merit listeners sticking around as they established it.  Does it mean that everything before and after it was a craptastic waste? Of course not, but revisiting music from That One is guaranteed to trigger a heady sense of euphoric nostalgia for performers and their fans alike. In R&B, Earth, Wind & Fire has All N' All, The (post-Motown) Jacksons have Triumph, Mint Condition has Definition Of A Band and Jagged Edge's is J.E. Heartbreak. 

If they've lasted long enough to acquire airplay and a following, every band or group has 'That One', as in 'That One Album/CD' that best capitalized the artist’s signature sound and/or revealed enough potential to merit listeners sticking around as they established it.  Does it mean that everything before and after it was a craptastic waste? Of course not, but revisiting music from That One is guaranteed to trigger a heady sense of euphoric nostalgia for performers and their fans alike. In R&B, Earth, Wind & Fire has All N' All, The (post-Motown) Jacksons have Triumph, Mint Condition has Definition Of A Band and Jagged Edge's is J.E. Heartbreak. 

The quartet's roughly-hewned harmonies and honest emotions, girded by the songwriting and production skills of Bryan Michael-Cox and Jermaine Dupri, respectively, resonated on hits like "Promise," "He Can't Love U" and "Let's Get Married" in a way that evoked screams and plucked heartstrings. Subsequent releases like Jagged Edge and Hard were also embraced by fans, but label changes and distancing (purposefully or coincidentally) from their expected style over the years likely made them want to revisit the roots of greener pastures, which is what JE strives to achieve with their eighth CD, J. E. Heartbreak II. 

First off, a 'spoiler' of sorts: those looking for a stream of songs with two verses and a (hip-hop) hook or multiple 'booty-call/friends-with-benefits' scenarios will likely be disappointed. As Jagged Edge established within the intro---courtesy of a Recording Academy panel discussion snippet----they're not and never were about that life, thankyouverymuch. What they are about, which fans obviously prefer in Richard Wingo, Kyle Norman and the twin Casey brothers, are the imperfect, yet affectionate declarations of love, the lilting choruses and those occasional bursts of street and sexy bravado that endeared them to ladies and gents alike.

Reuniting with Cox and JD, with Brian and Brandon Casey lyrics showcased throughout the twelve-song set, provides JE a familiar ease that solicits engaging performances. "Things I Do For You" gives props to a union only the couple understands, gossipy kinfolk be damned ("The bond that we got is really unbreakeable/any questioning about your worth, I tell em' I'm paid in full."). "Future" follows the trajectory of 2000's "Promise," declaring that a life without her leaves a destiny he'd rather not contemplate. "Hope," the first single, is noble ode to mending a woman's broken heart, simply by being all that her ex-man could not. "Try to love you better than you've ever been loved, try to touch you better than you've ever been touched.....hope she just don't see a thug now, hope she'll see all this love now." 

JE, for better or worse, doesn't deviate from the template they established back in the glory days of So So Def, especially in that they offer more ballads than bangers: there's still an abundance of swag, featured in the 'tired-of-this-club-let's-get-cozy elsewhere' groove, “Familiar" and the boastful "Love Come Down" (splintered headboards anyone?). But the slow jams are where they shine the brightest: "It's Been You" renders a lushness in vocal range and accord that rivals the a cappella outro of "Let's Get Married," and "Getting Over You," the inevitable second single, drapes lamentations of a missing love over a cleverly looped 70s-era slow jam (one can practically imagine butterfly collars, blue lights and a shag carpet), rueing the  moment that "Everything, it was gone it was gone it was gone" and that the missing ex left no clue about what happened or why: "Now I'm down in the dumps, I'm about to fill this cup/Bartender, fill me up...." 

From young playa-playas to settled-minded, still-swerving: J.E. Heartbreak II doesn't actually attempt to replicate its predecessor, but what it does accomplish is combining enough of those early elements with contemporary fringes (like the Auto-Tune scattered throughout that isn't quite needed) to remind fans why they gravitated to, and still enjoy, this Atlanta-formed quartet. Brian, Brandon, Steve and Kyle may not have re-invented the wheel here, but that wasn't ever necessary, given how smoothly they've navigated this present vehicle and others in their 15+ year-long ride. Highly Recommended. 

By Melody Charles

 
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