No R&B artist who released a debut album in 2014 paid dues like Luke James. The New Orleans native's past includes background singing for Tyrese, a fruitless stint on J Records, and composer credits on recordings by a list of artists that is, to say the least, varied -- from Charlie Wilson to Britney Spears, though Chris Brown's "Crawl" was most successful. Likewise, James himself is a vocalist with a number of approaches. He can coolly project with seemingly minimal effort one moment, then shift into a penetrating falsetto like he is wrenching every bit of emotion out of his body. His self-titled debut includes singles that date back to 2012, a run that began with "I Want You." The heart-rending ballad barely made Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart, but it was nominated for a Grammy -- quite possibly an indicator of his appeal. A handful of singles were subsequently issued through 2013, but none of them charted. (The deeply impassioned ballad "Make Love to Me" appears on the album's deluxe edition; none were included on the standard edition.) Frequently assisted by previous creative partner Danja, and also joined by the duo of Philip Constable and Dominic Gordon (aka the Alliance), among others, James delivers an impressive debut. His versatility is something of a curse, however, since the set comes across as a compilation of material made from a deep pool of choices. It ranges from throwback soul to mature pop, with sleek dancefloor grooves, quasi-trap backdrops, and pulsating ballads all part of the mix. James rightly keeps the featured appearances to a minimum, with only Rick Ross along for dramatic second single "Options." He puts his all into everything, like this is his one shot, and while nothing here sounds compromised, it doesn't sound like the purest possible set of material. It's a bit too exacting, perhaps. Here's hoping he'll get to make a second album with less commercial pressure. Very few 2010s newcomers have more talent than this man.
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AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman