Lean On Me: José James Celebrates Bill Withers
A deep and soulful young vocalist whose international profile has exploded in the last few years, José James has transcended his reputation as a Jazz singer to embrace influences including R&B, Moroccan Gnawa music, Hip-Hop and Gospel. On the heels of 2015’s beguiling Billie Holiday centennial tribute Yesterday I Had the Blues and the electro-pop of this year’s Love in a Time of Madness, James returns with a celebration of the music of iconic Soul singer and composer Bill Withers.
James’ flexibility and omnivorous musical taste is reflected in his hugely diverse résumé, which includes work with Jazz great Chico Hamilton as well as Electronica hero Flying Lotus. In his review for The New York Times, writer Ben Ratliff described James as “a romantic baritone with a deep-funk band, stretching out songs, evoking both the ’70s of Roberta Flack and Gil Scott-Heron and the ’90s and oughts of J Dilla.” In a program called Lean on Me, James offers his reverent-yet-expansive take on Withers classics including “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Use Me,” and “Just the Two of Us, backed by a stellar band.
Vetted personally by Mr. Withers himself, the show is an exploration of the deep musical catalogue that touched millions of hearts and united communities worldwide. Featuring Withers’ top ten hits as well as his soul ballads and rare grooves, James brings both a deep musical appreciation and a contemporary approach to songs such as “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Hope She’ll Be Happier,” and “Just the Two of Us.”
Fittingly, James has assembled a truly all-star cast of musicians to play with him: Nate Smith on drums, Reuben Rodgers on bass, James Francies on keys and Brad Allen Williams on guitar.