Album Review: José James – BlackMagic (2010)

Album Review: José James – BlackMagic (2010)

Album Review: José James – BlackMagic (2010)

Rating: 4 out of 5 Potholes

It’s about time we got an album that is just as much a nod to the past as it is a fresh and vibrant update of contemporary urban music. For the sake of clarity, we can call José James’ BlackMagic a neo-soul album, but rest assured, it is so much more. Signed to Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood label, José James introduced the world to his unique brand of music that is equal parts soul, jazz, electronica, and hip-hop with his stunning 2008 debut, The Dreamer.

BlackMagic opens with the silky “Code” produced by Flying Lotus, which introduces José’s supreme jazz sensibilities as he uses his baritone voice to complement the production, rather than to overpower it. There is never a note that José strains to reach as he stays comfortably within his range. And this is not out of laziness, but rather it is by design; it adds a breeziness to the music that could not be achieved otherwise.

It isn’t long before José unlocks his adoration for various musical genres, venturing into hip-hop on “Lay You Down” and “Promise In Love”. The former sounds as if it is a long-lost track from the early Soulquarian days, while the latter, produced by DJ Mitsu the Beats (whose 2009 album the track first appeared on), maintains a smooth appreciation for jazz, yet stays firmly rooted in boom-bap. After a somewhat out of place foray into nu-jazz with “Warrior”, José reverts to his bread and butter for the rest of the album: fluid jazz fused with warm soul.

There is an overarching theme to the album – love – and it works both for and against José. Certainly José’s style is best suited for songs about love, as his vocal delivery excels on the seductive “Save Your Love For Me” and the aforementioned “Lay You Down”. However, it also leaves much to be desired from the overall content. While the actual songwriting is strong, the lyrics tend to play it safe for the most part, with few risks taken.

Nonetheless, with music this gorgeous, safe songwriting is not too big of a concern. The focus of this album is the music. Finite keys and horns tease the listener as they dart in and out. The liquid bass guitars drive the tracks while the drums provide a sure and steady structure. And then there’s José, whose voice is as magical as the title indicates. Though not a definitive masterpiece, BlackMagic proves that José and crew have more than enough tricks up their collective sleeves to create vivid, entertaining music.


  1. adeel
    Mar 03, 2011 @ 22:46:03

    jose how many album you have

  2. frank_be
    May 23, 2010 @ 12:31:04

    Always meant to comment on this when I copp’d the album a couple months ago. Its a good record, I just feel it’s two different sounds merged into one. Also, while agree that Jose uses his voice the way he does on BlackMagic for tone and effect, I tune out because of it at times. Not everybody needs to belt it out like Bilal, but a few vocal gymnastics wouldn’t have hurt either. Yet the highs on this album are so good: Warrior, Promise In Love (probabley my personal favorite), Made In Love, Black Magic and Lay You Down. I have a feeling Jose’s best music is ahead of him

  3. Zach Cole
    Mar 08, 2010 @ 23:24:28

    Thanks for the comment, Jenny. This album really is a great listen.

  4. jennyb
    Mar 08, 2010 @ 13:27:46

    this album was such a pleasure to find.
    i just started getting into him this year with his album.
    im in love.
    after listening to the album for the past 2 months and then reading this review.. you were so on point!! nice points made!
    book marking potholesinmyblog now!!

  5. Gedi Dabakaeri
    Mar 01, 2010 @ 11:43:34

    I haven’t heard Madlib’s The Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble album. I gotta get on that. Thanks for reminding me.


  6. Zach Cole
    Mar 01, 2010 @ 00:32:14

    Thanks Gedi. And as much as I love this album, I still might have to give the nod to Madlib’s The Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble – Miles Away for best album of 2010 so far… But this may be a very close second…

  7. Gedi Dabakaeri
    Feb 28, 2010 @ 18:50:01

    Blackmagic is easily the best album of this early 2010, at least until Flying Lotus or Erykah Badu drop their new albums. The production on this LP is impeccable. I love all the Flying Lotus produced tracks; especially “Made For Love” & the title track. I agree with you; Jose’s voice is magical. I thought he played it somewhat safe lyrically but the entire album is so cohesive sonically and thematically that I didn’t find myself nitpicking. Folks are still sleeping on Jose James. He’s like the best kept secret in music. Good review Zach.

Leave a Reply