by Dom Jones
In a recent interview on The Breakfast Club, one of the stars of Fox’s “Empire,” Jussie Smollet stated that he’s not allowed to release his own music while he’s filming the show or while the show is airing, leaving an extremely small window of time when he can promote personal projects. I can only assume that the same is true for the cast of the show that follows “Empire” every week on Fox, “Star,” so it was no surprise to me when Luke James dropped his new single, “These Arms,” very soon after the season finale of the show. Restrictions aside, acting has put Luke’s music at the forefront. After starring as Johnny Gill in The New Edition Story, I bought Luke’s self-titled debut album, and played it out. When he dropped the smoldering single “Drip” last year, I was definitely hooked. In my opinion, the music on “Star” is much better than the music on “Empire,” and so I enjoy watching it more, particularly Luke’s character. A few weeks ago, he performed a passionate, heartfelt cover of Luther Vandross’ “Dance With My Father” on an episode, and it made me start thinking that his acting career is is the fuel for his music career. Watch the performance below:
“These Arms” is another soulful song, without as much sultriness in the sound as “Drip,” even though the lyrics are aligned. While “Drip” reminded me of something Al Green might sing, “These Arms” is closer to something I might hear from Smokey Robinson. Both are enjoyable, yet I’d have probably released them in reverse order. Luke’s range is always at the fore in his music, his high
falsetto ringing out over the harmonies, like a tight hug on the instrumentation. The instruments sit back, acting as an accessory to the song, and let the artist’s voice shine. The balance between vocal and production is incredible and create a really warm feeling.
As for Luke James, I personally feel that he’s one of the most necessary voice in R&B right now. Where BJ The Chicago Kid invokes the deep soul of D’Angelo, Luke James has the charisma (and range) of a young Maxwell (although, Johnny Gill’s recent influence is clear in Luke’s latest vocal performances). Male R&B vocalists who can rely more on their talent than their PR team and who eschew raunchy lyrics for authentic love songs are a rarity, and I think Luke James finds that balance without dating himself and without diminishing his relevance. “These Arms” is a great example of that. It’s a song that someone’s grandmother could listen to, but that could also be enjoyed by a couple having a romantic evening. How many current R&B songs would anyone feel comfortable playing for their grandmother? This kind of “everybody” music is lacking in all genres, I think, so I’m happy that Luke and others are bringing it back to the fore. What I think we’re all waiting for, though, is the next album. With the restrictions of his current acting gig, perhaps singles make the most sense, logistically, but these teasers aren’t enough. GIVE US AN ALBUM, LUKE! For now, “These Arms” will have to tide us over, and it’s definitely doing its job.