Like so many artists, R&B singer/songwriter Lyfe Jennings had his ‘run’ in the game. Following his biggest successes, his album sales dwindled and he went from major label to independent label – yep, basically the story of many a R&B artist and artists in general. Regardless of his commercial fortunes, on album six, Tree Of Lyfe, Jennings still does his thing – deliver honest, straight-talking R&B with great songwriting to match. Oh and by the way, he’s back on a major – label that is (RED is distributed through Sony).
“I Love You” kicks off Tree Of Lyfe with an old school, neo-soul vibe. Though “I Love You” is old fashioned, it doesn’t feel archaic or anachronistic by any means. Jennings infuses his best, delivering the increasingly rare chivalrous contemporary R&B record. “She Don’t Wanna” keeps the momentum flowing, embracing a slightly more ‘contemporary’ adult R&B sound – if that makes sense! Ultimately, Jennings doesn’t change-up his formula, he just keeps on flexing what he does proficiently.
“#Hashtag” ranks among the elites, finding Jennings balancing real talk (no filter), contemporary production, and creative, sound songwriting. Vocally Jennings excels, with his signature rasp at its best. Authenticity really drives “#Hashtag” home. “#Hashtag” is followed up by two duets – “We’re Not The Same” featuring Algebra Blessett and “Talkin About Love” featuring Demetria McKinny. Both guests are terrific vocalists, though unsung by all means. As for the duets, both are respectable without necessary representing the crème de la crème of Tree of Lyfe.
“Right Now” is rock solid and well produced, but “Pretty Is” is the showstopper, thanks to its positivity. Jennings sings memorably, “You’ll always be pretty because / you’re still full of love.” Aw – so chivalrous! “People” is another respectable moment from Tree of Lyfe considering Jennings pays ode to Marvin Gaye and channeling Gaye’s socially conscious brand of music. While it stands out, “People” could’ve lasted longer with even more development, it ultimately represents a worthwhile moment.
Another testament to ‘songwriting’ is “Gods,” which is thoughtful in its conception. Rather than being just another ‘record,’ “Gods” is truly a song with profound meaning behind it – the substance is there. Does “Gods” feel like a hit per se? Nah – but, it shows that R&B still has songwriters who transcend the shallower end of the spectrum. Following the “25,000 Mornings Interlude,” “Always” concludes Tree Of Lyfe much like it opens – throwback R&B. “Always” actually takes it a step further, tapping into vintage soul, intact with strings, background vocals, and good ole six-eight meter.
Does Lyfe Jennings reinvent the wheel on Tree Of Lyfe? No, but he delivers a candid, genuine R&B effort without major flaw. Even if Tree Of Lyfe isn’t always remarkable or exciting, the pieces are all in place – I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed. Worth the listen and/or purchase? – Definitely!
Favorites: “I Love You,” “She Don’t Wanna,” “#Hashtag,” “Pretty Is,” “Always”