Joe - Bridges (2014)

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In the beginning, and in the end, life is all about relationships. No matter who you are, what you do for a living or where you come from, if you're unable to maintain meaningful ties with other people (familial, platonic, romantic or otherwise), practically anything else you've accomplished gets the side-eye or becomes suspect.....if you managed to do anything at all, that is. Skills without the network or fanbase to share them with usually don't amount to much, and those crucial connections are the focus of Joe's latest CD, Bridges. 
 
Released less than a year after his tenth CD, Doubleback: Evolution of R&B, Bridges represents a new relationship stage within itself---a breakup from his longtime manager, Kedar Massenburg---and the beginning of his entrepreneurial venture as a label owner distributed via BMG . Beyond that switchup, however, Mr.
 
In the beginning, and in the end, life is all about relationships. No matter who you are, what you do for a living or where you come from, if you're unable to maintain meaningful ties with other people (familial, platonic, romantic or otherwise), practically anything else you've accomplished gets the side-eye or becomes suspect.....if you managed to do anything at all, that is. Skills without the network or fanbase to share them with usually don't amount to much, and those crucial connections are the focus of Joe's latest CD, Bridges. 
 
Released less than a year after his tenth CD, Doubleback: Evolution of R&B, Bridges represents a new relationship stage within itself---a breakup from his longtime manager, Kedar Massenburg---and the beginning of his entrepreneurial venture as a label owner distributed via BMG . Beyond that switchup, however, Mr. Thomas's established rep as a loverman is part of a fruitful formula he knew better than to tamper with. Production is still mastered by him along with Gerald Isaac and Derek "D.O.A." Allen, who've ambitiously created a generous set of songs hearkening back to the past (80s and 90s period mainly) sound, even as they explore the rejuvenation, restoration and even wrecking of, well, bridges.
 
Joe remains one of those few New Jack Era entertainers who ages like wine and consistently delivers hits with each new project: "Love Undefeated" is wrapped in vintage 70s soul, echoing the famous Philly Sound, as Joe tells listeners to unite as brothers and others in the best interest of the present and the future. The guitar plucks and horn flourishes make the jam unique and irresistible. The first single, "Sex & Love Pt. 2" (with Kelly Rowland) is the most effortless of the collabos, with the two singers' pipes soothingly blended as they praise monogamous loving over random sexcapades. "Til The Rope Gives Way" is a 1960s throwback of a torch ballad. Sam Cooke and Otis Redding are giving thumbs-up from heaven as Joe spills his everything into loving his woman from this life and possibly the next: "Nothing can shake me, nothing can break me from you/I'm gonna hold on, til' the rope gives way." Ladies will certainly appreciate "The Rest Will Follow,"a tender-hearted, reflective apology that rues how Joe disrespected his lady, forgot "it's not all about me" and failed to "shut up and listen sometimes" (can I get a witness?!?): "I should've listened to the preacher's sermon, because now I'm reaping what I've sowed/all these reasons don't mean nothing when all you're holding on are the thorns."  
 
The style changes that Joe makes from one track to the next would require Dramamine if they came from a novice, but Mr Thomas knows just how much to release or reign in: "Sex As A Weapon" retains a busy Billy Ocean feel, slyly reminding his lady that withholding the good-good punishes them both and is a move she'll certainly regret ("You know I'm hungry, but you wanna starve me/a Queen Bee should never hold back the honey"). And "Take It To The House" sounds like a Kool & The Gang step groove mashup. But as fun as those jams can be, Joe's signature balladry songs----the plaintive mea culpa, "Blame Her Broken Heart," the itchy, angst-filled "this one or that one?" query, "Dilemma," and a harmony-rich "If You Lose Her"--- remain the consistent jewels. 
 
For all of Joe's silky-smooth soulfulness and lyrical skills, however, the few holes to be found on this particular Bridge range from irritating to downright atrocious: the sequencing of the tracks, for some reason, stack the best of the bunch from the middle down, a technique that places the more mediocre numbers ("Fortune Teller," "Do A Little Dance," "First Lady") much higher than they deserve. And even Mr. Thomas's virtuosity cannot overcome the obligatory hip-hop nod and cliche-ridden Rick James recalibration, "Mary Jane (Remix)," not to mention its bloodless rhyme-by-numbers cameo via 50 Cent. Another disappointment is "Love Sex Hollywood," a funky flirtatious cut that wants to pay tribute to His Royal Badness, but leaves only cringe-worthy results due to Joe's underdeveloped falsetto range. 
 
Missteps and misconceptions aside, Joe's latest will do exactly what he intended to: guide his loyal 90s era fans into a new dimension of musical maturity. Trends change and tastes evolve, but Mr. Thomas's endurance comes from swaying with the currents rather than standing rigidly against them, a practice that makes this particular Bridge well worth the crossing. Highly Recommended. 
 
By Melody Charles
 
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