by Dom Jones
One of my favorite male vocalists at Berklee, when Cedric Jackson, II told me that he’d be releasing his EP during the school year, I was amped! I’d seen him sing several times with Niya Norwood, he’s had his own solo shows including participating in Berklee Groove Sessions earlier this semester, but as with many Berklee students, I hadn’t seen him release much original music yet. It makes sense, what with our rigorous academic and performance schedules, that it would take until his final year at Berklee for us to get a glimpse into where he’s going as an artist. Earlier in the year, he released the single and music video, “You’ll Never Know,” which appears on his new EP “Balance” as the opening track. I like the track, and while it’s not my favorite song on the EP (singles almost never are), it acts as a single should, functionally: it’s catchy, it shows the artist’s range, it has a relatable story, and the production is accessible to the non-musician’s ear.
Where we really start to get into a deeper feel are with the other (not nearly enough) three tracks on the project. “SYNH”(something you’ve never had) blends high musicianship and the popular “trap” feel. It was smart to put this track as a follow up to “You’ll Never Know” because it creates continuity of story, and with the limited number of songs, continuity of story is paramount. The listener also can now start to analyze Cedric’s writing style, which is to speak directly to the protagonist in the story rather than to speak to the listener. In this way, the listener almost feel as though they’re an intruder on several private moments in a budding and evolving relationship.
By the time you get to the third track, you’re deep into this couple’s business. They’re losing their equillibrium, and because the music is good, you’re rooting for them. The production on “Maybe,” is the best on the project, and the rap feature is unexpected, but not unwelcome. It actually adds more dimension and texture to a project that could have seemed like one long love song. What keeps “Balance” from going there is the forward motion of the production, the changing melodic choices (without losing a sense of the artist’s style), and the fact that it’s a short project! You finally get the balance: there’s a longing for more content, but the listener isn’t given more content, since giving in to that inclination may have very well ruined the project.
The final song, “Stay With Me,” is my favorite. Normally, songs at the end of projects have come after it has peaked and is coasting on annoying musical plateau. Balance never plateaus. Rather, it continues on this slow incline and the final song is the peak (and cliffhanger)! As Cedric pleads with the protagonist to stay with him through the challenges that occur in any human relationship, there’s no song that happens after it, so we don’t know if they do decide to stay. I almost feel as though there’s some sort of lyric in each song about his desire not to make the situation more complicated (by starting a relationship, by building that relationship, by its struggles, by its possible demise). Whichever phase the listener is in currently or has experienced in the past, there’s a relatable story on this record for you (which is difficult to accomplish in only four tracks).
Ultimately, as a first offering, “Balance” has set Cedric Jackson, II up as a consistent and high level vocalist, an aspirational songwriter, and someone with a clear vision and deft hand in executing said vision. The musical acumen with which this project was created is not obscured by what we all know can be an overwhelming musical education. The knowledge and skill which is necessary to call upon in this effort is used with immense consideration and control. To that end, “Balance” has been achieved.
HAVE YOU HEARD ANY OF THE MUSIC ON “BALANCE?” WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE?
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