José James

Love In A Time Of Madness
(Blue Note)

On his last album, the 5-star-rated Yesterday I Had The Blues: The Music Of Billie Holiday, singer José James appeared on the cover in dapper early ’60s chic and performed with an all- star jazz trio. For Love In A Time Of Madness, James has grown out his hair, shed his shirt to flash his tattoos and pecs, and beefed up his studio crew to 17, with layers of synths, drum machines and keyboards. In place of Holiday’s literate tales of love gone wrong, he’s dropping F-bombs and singing about how much coke he consumed the night before.

Don’t ever let it be said that James is afraid to mess with a winning formula. Shucking a lean jazz style for a slick r&b approach usually smacks of cashing in with a commercial product, but James seems more like he’s coming at his fans from leftfield, hoping he can convince them he’s as bad as he is good. Love In A Time Of Madness references contemporary influences like Drake, Kanye West and Bryson Tiller, but also reflects the Minneapolis music scene of James’ youth.

While the opening tracks are filled with cut beats and whirring digital effects, “Let It Fall,” features a simple, moody guitar, hand drum and multiple voices in its first verses, revealing a definitive jazz background. Don’t think he’s crossed over to hip-hop for keeps.