A few radio singles aside, Moss in the past has stumbled over what felt like overboard synth-driven strings, super-staked background vocals and unfriendly pop song structures. Certainly, Moss is an urban contemporary gospel fly guy. His albums, when placed against his contemporaries, paint flashy and extravagant canvases possessing some of modern gospel's most street-wise productions. While Moss's previous releases only revealed two or three radio-ready cuts, Just James establishes itself as both a remarkable teaser and a strong improvement over his past projects. You would think without all the glitzy cameo appearances and hip-hop swagger, along with the short ten-song set, that the forecast ahead would be gloom and doom. Not so.
Even without the gimmicks of his previous urban workout V2, Moss manages to deliver a product that embodies his Detroit gospel influences while exerting the need to return to precious melodies. "Holy One" is a rhythm-fueled traditional rocker that would have made the perfect Clark Sister appetizer. Still big on brassy synths, songs like "Sweet Jesus," the jazzy Nat King Cole-inspired "Anointing," and "So Into You" reveal more of the reverent, worshipful side of Moss's laid back persona. It is that dimension of Moss that grants the album a much better digestive tract. Sure, the album opener "I Gave It Up," bearing a resemblance to his 21:03 dance floor solutions, may raise questions of a crunk party-goer still wrestling with yesterday's blues, but it's the only time Moss revisits the hyper alter ego. The bulk of the album, with its unrestrained musical exertions, focuses on the power of repentance and spiritual transformation.
Leading the list of album delights is "Restored." Moss's acoustic pop cut is saturated with a gospel finish and points toward the God servant's sunnier days. Another bit of shine, "No More," with its slick R&B edges and Black Eyed Peas' beats, possesses just enough hip-hop swagger to keep the youngsters' interest. Using a Stargate template, the title cut-etched with a pleading apology and a wizened innocence-gives way to one of the album's most passionate and memorable performances.
If there is a criticism to be launched perhaps would be Moss's need to tone down the highly-aggressive shouting matches on the big gospel vamps. One could also tag Moss on the predictability of his ballad closers (i.e., repetitive phrases, wordy ad-libs, etc.). But even with these few chinks and the album's brevity, Moss pulls off one of his better musical attractions to a date. It is quite remarkable to witness the troubling corners of a musician's survival system ultimately leading to new beginnings and to some of an artists' best work. Still, Just James is more than just a page from his personal diary; it's evidence of an evolving worshiper resting comfortably on a matured, relaxed set of musical progression. Recommended.
J. Matthew Cobb