James Day – Song, Soul & Spirit
James Day – Song, Soul & Spirit
Building on the momentum of last year’s nicely varied Repertoire, composer/producer James Day drops an even wider-ranging set of soul-felt jewels on the appropriately coined Song, Soul & Spirit. The presence alone of top-tier talent like Sandra St. Victor, Paula Cole, and Lalah Hathaway (to name just a few) gives the disc an advantage from the get-go. But name value aside, it’s the ably conceived, sharply delivered tunes inside that make it a highly impressionable listen worth multiple spins. Frequent Day partners Tony Terry, Glenn Jones, Walter Beasley, and Audrey Wheeler are among the cast who help bring the new material to light, with luminaries such as Cleveland P. Jones, Cheryl “Pepsii” Riley, and Trina Broussard further fueling the fire.
The opening “Battlegrounds” sets a passionate tone for an album which displays a clear understanding of the soulful foundations of both classic R&B and pop. Embodied instrumentally with blues-shaded verse melody and slightly rock-tinged guitar work, the riveting cries of Riley, Terry, and Jones boldly break free from the shackles of silence to which the song’s socially savvy lyrics speak. Charging forward in tempo, the assured and inspiring “Love Is My Bible” answers many of the issues addressed in “Battlegrounds” with a simple solution: “If we don’t like what we see, it starts and ends with you and me.” St. Victor and Wheeler bring the message home with vivid color, embellished by the spry sax work of Shannon Kennedy and U-Nam’s in-the-pocket rhythms.
Tony Award-winning Elisabeth Withers, whose solo albums for Blue Note and Purpose Music have been enjoyed by many SoulTrackers, turns in a comfortingly cultivated performance on the soothing “Stand on My Shoulders,” enhanced by melodious sax lines from Beasley. Adding a steppers’ groove into the mix, the atmospheric “Speak Love” boasts plush keyboard work by Daryl “LA” Hunt and fine touches of Rhodes alongside flawlessly tender and impassioned vox from Terry and both Glenn and Tim Owens.
Perhaps the most deeply contemplative moment on Song, Soul & Spirit comes with the acoustically vibed “Who Can Tell the Heart,” an affecting examination of the logic-defying flow of our inner selves that feels especially relevant in these all too frequently heartless times in which we’re living. “You can warn your best friend, he’s no good for you/You can beg your lover not to leave/You can tell the world what you believe, but who can tell the heart how it should feel…Who can tell the heart who it was made to love?” Terry’s delicate balance of dynamics and range arrestingly captures the quiet urgency of Day’s longing melodies.
The second half of Song, Soul & Spirit flows just as dexterously as the first, with the Trina Broussard-led “It’s All Divine” effortlessly lifting the listener’s spirit. The lite-funk-induced arrangement is a fitting backdrop for Broussard’s uncomplicated, reassuring phrasing. “Can’t feel good if you ain’t felt bad/Name the pain, but recognize the blessing.” Truth. More melancholy in initial mood, but ultimately also upward-thinking, the ponderous “Forgiveness” exhibits a subtly shining vocal chemistry between co-writer Gordon Chambers and Paula Cole. Contrastingly, one of the most upbeat entries on the set deals with some of the darkest subject matter. The driving “No Son of Mine,” fronted resolutely by Cleveland P. Jones, confronts the hate that is often spewed in the name of religion towards those who love another of the same gender. “She never heard the tears he cried/Praise the lord, lock the doors/Hallelujah, his love died.” More truth.
Rounding out the album are two numbers which further demonstrate the variegated influences permeating Day’s compositions. The delightfully simple “Dreamland” finds Lalah Hathaway enhancing his idyllic passages with easygoing melody lines and sweet vocal aplomb. Subsequently, the bright uptempo “We Dance” featuring Maysa gets a revved-up redux from original producers Cool Million, who pump additional life into the feel-good gem, making it a bona fide floor filler.
For more than a decade, James Day has delivered the goods with his all-star sets, and, with Song, Soul & Spirit, he raises his own high bar one more time. Highly recommended.
By Justin Kantor
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