Review: Luke James Shows Off Lofty Potential on Self-Titled Debut


Luke James • Luke James • Island • US Release Date: September 23, 2014

One of the troubles that often hurts R&B music – particularly new artists – is low-key promotion, not to mention the lack of a big-time single. For Luke James, he was truly fortunate to earn a Grammy nomination for his performance of “I Want You,” considering it wasn’t a household name even in R&B circles. Much the same could be made of James’ debut album, Luke James. Arriving during one of the year’s most stacked release weeks, it’s unsurprisingly this self-titled debut album sort of ‘slips through the cracks.’

Although Luke James is under the radar, the singer has released several singles. Besides examination from a commercial standpoint, overall, James has the ‘pieces’ in place here. It doesn’t play perfectly, but all in all, there’s plenty for the hungry R&B enthusiast to sink their teeth into.

“Love XYZ” opens Luke James mysteriously, led by rhythmic synths, not to mention the underlying groove. Vocally, once James begins singing (there is an extended instrumental introduction), he sounds terrific. Even so, “Love XYZ” doesn’t quite have enough substance to leave a lasting impression. It’s a bit more confounding than anything else in that regards. Ultimately, think of it is an interlude.

“Dancing in the Dark” embodies modern/contemporary R&B, thanks to production and overall vibe. James sounds smooth, sensual, and quite alluring without, say delivering a definitive knockout punch. With or without a TKO, James shows off his tremendous voice, artistic potential, and delivers a catchy hook along the way (“Cause we’re dancing in the dark again…and it feels so good / when I lay you down”).

“Don’t Do It (Interlude),” is groovy, if a bit off-putting initially. It makes more sense once “Trouble” enters into the picture. Like everything else, “Trouble” is well produced, yielding a nice overall sound. As a record, it’s also sound and ultimately pleasant. Vocally, James continues to flaunt his gifts, namely his flawless, full-bodied falsetto. Like “Dancing in the Dark,” the chorus is catchy, further accentuated by the repetition of the title (“trouble, trouble”).  Worth noting is that “Trouble” takes a nice risk by changing keys, something so few pop/R&B songs do anymore.

“The Run” has a different sound from the previous cuts, driven by its hip-hop oriented drums. “The Run” lacks the stability of cuts like “Dancing in the Dark” and “Trouble,” embracing more experimental means. “Glass House,” like “The Run,” is also firmly planted in modern R&B. The difference is that “Glass House” does it more effectively with arguably a bit more depth.

“Stole my smile / and all I’ve got left of you are all these exit wounds,” James passionately delivers on the chorus of stand out “Exit Wounds.” ‘Course, his passionate grows angrier, as James responds, “Well, f*ck you / you can leave with everything you came with…” A well-written song that instantly connects with the audience, “Exit Wounds” easily ranks among the best. 

“TimeX (Interlude)” precedes another standout, “Options” featuring Rick Ross. “Options” may be the most heartfelt and emotionally wrenching performance of Luke James, ranking among the most genuine and authentic songs. Lyrically, the words are electrifying and penetrate deeply. But as James sings himself, “This lyric is a miracle.” Add in a solid rap from Rick Ross, and “Options” is top-notch. Song and interlude combo “Insane/Bombin’ Out (Interlude)” proceed – all six and a half minutes of it.

“I Want You” will always remain a notable part of James’ work – it was the single that earned him his first Grammy nomination. Maybe even more important, it was the first taste of that magnificent falsetto that listeners were blessed with. A perfect balance of R&B and pop, it’s a shame “I Want You” didn’t end up being a big-time hit.

“Exposé” concludes Luke James with mid-tempo with a ‘lighter’ sensibility in mind. It’s not bad, but following a juggernaut like “I Want You” isn’t the least bit easy.

The deluxe edition of Luke James features the masterful “Make Love To Me,” which somehow is excluded from the standard edition – travesty! Besides the seminal “Make Love To Me,” the deluxe version adds an alternate version of “Options,” as well as “Stay With Me.”

Overall, Luke James proves to be a solid, worthwhile debut album. It’s neither a perfect debut album nor a definitive classic, but it’s a fine start that does exhibit James’ artistic potential. Even with its imperfections, it’s blatantly apparent that James’ ceiling is extremely high.

Favorites: “Dancing in the Dark,” “Trouble,” “Exit Wounds,” “Options,” “I Want You”

★★★½

Photo Credits: © Island, instagram / wolfjames

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