Jamie Lidell - Jim (2008)

Jamie Lidell
Jamie_Lidell_Jim_Album.jpg

A leisurely stroll down the annals of soul music history, Jim is one of the best soul albums of 2008. Its joyous modernization of retro-soul music and liberal use of live instrumentation all but ensures that Jim creator, Jamie Lidell, will have one of the most exciting concert tours in years. With Jim, Jamie proves that scrupulous study of soul and tireless homework on the mechanics of timeless songs can net a decent singer an A-plus hit record. Everything about the project's jam session sound, deliriously melodic tunes, and direct lyricism is accessible, compelling and immediately likable. While there isn't an original chord to be found on this 10 song set, there also isn't a bonafide clunker in the bunch. With precious cuts like "Green Light," "Rope of Sand," and the current single, "Another Day," littering its tracklist, no skipping around is required on Jim.

A leisurely stroll down the annals of soul music history, Jim is one of the best soul albums of 2008. Its joyous modernization of retro-soul music and liberal use of live instrumentation all but ensures that Jim creator, Jamie Lidell, will have one of the most exciting concert tours in years. With Jim, Jamie proves that scrupulous study of soul and tireless homework on the mechanics of timeless songs can net a decent singer an A-plus hit record. Everything about the project's jam session sound, deliriously melodic tunes, and direct lyricism is accessible, compelling and immediately likable. While there isn't an original chord to be found on this 10 song set, there also isn't a bonafide clunker in the bunch. With precious cuts like "Green Light," "Rope of Sand," and the current single, "Another Day," littering its tracklist, no skipping around is required on Jim.

"I used to scream when a whisper would do," a lyric from "Another Day" on Jim, speaks to Jamie Lidell's evolution as an artist. His densely layered brand of electronica on albums such as Muddlin Gear (2000) and Head On (1999), with collaborator Cristian Vogel, were cluttered sonic explosions of conscientious techno and trip-hop. Then in 2005, the UK artist took a turn on Multiply with some clear nods to retro and neo-soul. Multiply got national recognition when "A Little Bit More," a funky album cut, became the theme song for Target's year-long national advertising campaign. But like a child still learning how to swim, Jamie held tight to the gutter rim of the pool when venturing into those deep, murky waters of soul. Demonstrating his reticence, or perhaps to reassure his electronica fans, the next year Jamie released a schizophrenic project of rambunctious live and remix versions of Multiply entitled Multiply Additions. Finally releasing the pool's rim, Jim reveals that Jamie has not only learned how to swim, he's learned to dog paddle and backstroke too. Lidell's skill and confidence extend to productions that are still meticulously layered but quiet and surprising when compared to the bombastic approach marking his early recordings.

Critics will decry Jamie Lidell's turnabout to soul as a calculated move to cash in on the current US craze for blue-eyed UK soul artists adeptly singing retro-soul, but those critics would have to ignore Lidell's consistent, if incremental moves toward soul for years, as evidenced by songs like "Game for Fools." Having listened to his earlier recordings, I believe Jamie was still in the process of finding his voice. And find it he has in a place that is conversely well traveled and least likely.

Jamie's voice, phrasing and musicality, if slightly derivative, have all dramatically improved since his debut. His is a familiar sound to any Stevie Wonder fan. Most Stevie Wonder singer enthusiasts aim for Stevie's golden era (the post Where I'm Coming From years) in their replication of Wonder's sound. Lidell, however, has set his sights to an earlier Stevie, one created by those classic Sylvia Moy and Holland Dozier Holland collaborations on Motown from I Was Made To Love Her (1967) through Signed Sealed, and Delivered (1970). So rarely do male singers, other than newcomer James Morrison, ever delve into this early Motown sound of ferocious energy, plain spoken storytelling, and that exploited tension between exuberance and yearning, that Jamie's voice here manages the freshness and immediacy of an original.

Also present and familiar are plenty of horns, tambourines, handclaps, door knocking, Wurlitzer keystrokes, and the unrelenting throb of Motown's signature backbeat on several cuts. Several of the songs prove my personal theory that a song instantly becomes energized fun with the inclusion of that famous Motown backbeat (though Solange's clunky "I Decided" is trying its darndest to prove me wrong). Whether it's the infectious single, "Another Day," the School House Rock of "Out of My System," or the Jackie Wilson pep of "Wait For Me" Jamie mostly sticks to this winning Motown formula.

Jim has a few notable departures from the 60s Motown sound including the Todd Rundgren ("Rope of Sand"), the Rascals ("A Little Bit of Feel Good"), The Who ("Hurricane") and Jamoriquai ("Figured Me Out"). Of this lofty collective of 60s soul and rock influences, only the Beck composed "Where D You Go," another 60s homage, finds itself in a bit of trouble. A lyrically thin but contagious tune, it tries a bit too hard to recreate the kind of bouncy pop meets Southern soul that Otis Redding and Wilson Picket did in their sleep. "Where D You Go" has Jamie reaching his vocal limitations as Gonzales' key work overshadows Lidell's kitschy vocals. Though listening to Jim is a bit like listening to a music history class on soul pop, the joy present in each ambitious song eclipses any concerns I have about Lidell wearing his influences so readily on his sleeve.

Where Jamie does insert his own unique sound is in the remnant electronica elements sprinkling Jim, particularly on each song's bridge or breaks. Lidell's use of butterfly supporting vocals from stellar singers like Nikka Costa to tease the edges and under-gird these tunes are unfailing in their placement and sometimes in their ability to amaze. The combination of orbital sound effects and ethereal voices enhancing soul melodies both lifts these songs from their doo-wop origins and modernizes them for contemporary audiences. With its rambling percussive and flash light effects interplaying with spacey supporting voices on a stridently old school structure, "Green Light" is the best example of this soul renewal; while "All I Wanna Do" is an example of Lidell's growth as a rare talent and more restrained producer. "All..." is a whisper of country blues evoking scenes of lazy lovers enveloped in fields of daisy and begins with the lightness of a commercial jingle for Maxwell House. However, the bittersweet tune subtly darkens with layers of melancholy chamber cries in one of the most touching breaks we've heard this year.

Jim is an example to all musicians and singers of how instructive the musical past can be if you just take the time to respect and learn from the best of it, and yet not be a slave to it. There is a reason why songs from all those influential artists I list have music that endures and inspires generations whether on the radio or TV advertisement. They knew that no amount of vocal trickery can beat a melodic tune sung directly from the gut. It's a lesson Jamie's learned as well. It's inspiring to hear an artist who's toiled for years exploring the experimental and avant garde, only to finally find his voice through basic soul, if done his own way. Jim is a beautiful soul artifact, one with plenty of songs that I predict will endure for generations to come. Highly Recommended

By L. Michael Gipson

 

 
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