Album Review: 'While You Were Sleeping'

Singer-songwriter Jose James' music lives at the intersection of jazz harmony, pop songcraft and hip-hop rhythm.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

A jazz singer for the hip-hop generation - that's how Jose James was described after he released his first album last year for the famed Blue Note record label. James has now released a follow-up. It's called, While You Were Sleeping. And reviewer Tom Moon says the 35-year-old shows phenomenal growth.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING")

JOSE JAMES: (Singing) Shadows long upon my face. Shadows long upon my face.

TOM MOON, BYLINE: Catch up with Jose James now because he's a rarity - an artist evolving at warp speed.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING")

JAMES: (Singing) Oh I've been here. The love affair is over. And I know...

MOON: James' first album for Blue Note showed promise, but it was all over the place. There were explorations of hip-hop and neo-soul, flirtations with alternative rock and a few killer 70s-style hooks. But those influences sometimes sounded hastily grabbed. Now he's massaged them into a totally personal, supercharged sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANYWHERE U GO")

JAMES: (Singing) Take me to the sun. I'm not anyone. I'm not anywhere. I believe in something.

MOON: In the 18 months since recording his last album, Jose James spent some time streamlining his art, which lives at the intersection of jazz harmony, pop song craft and hip-hop production. It's a fertile area and he goes into it at some depth. His new songs are intricate, sweet-like compositions. He says this one best shows his growth.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANYWHERE U GO")

JAMES: (Singing) Anywhere you go. Anywhere you go.

MOON: James hasn't left jazz behind exactly, just the cliches associated with jazz singing. His vocals have great spontaneity and looseness about them. Listen to the way he gently leans into this earthy groove.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANYWHERE U GO")

JAMES: (Singing) I've been dreaming of. Baby, I will whisper that should take my breath away. Oh. Everywhere I turn, everywhere I go, you are never far. You are always close.

MOON: Even when he goes all high concept, Jose James doesn't clutter the frame with acrobatic singing. He lets his melodies ripen naturally. Before, his songs were crammed with cleverness. Now, they're more subtle. He's learned to take his sweet time, emphasize only what's essential. And as a result, his music breathes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "4 NOBLE TRUTHS")

JAMES: (Singing) Whisper and wondering something. Dreams that I miss so long ago.

BLOCK: José James. His latest album is called, While You Were Sleeping. Our reviewer is Tom Moon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "4 NOBLE TRUTHS")

JAMES: (Singing) Tell me which way should I go? 'Cause you don't have to tell me that I feel so alone. Twisting and broken in toil. Break every rule they throw your son. Already done.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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