Watch José James Groove On Costs Withers’ ‘Better Off Dead’

Songs We Take pleasure in: José James, ‘Better Off Dead’

Enlarge this photograph toggle caption Janette Beckman/Courtesy of the artist Janette Beckman/Courtesy of the artist

José James, the eclectic, groove-minded jazz singer, provides made no magic formula of his fondness for Bill Withers. There’s a medley that James provides been singing in concert for a long time, linking Withers’ despondent anthem “Ain’t No Sunshine” with an upturning grace take note, “Grandma’s Hands.”

Gradually additional Withers classics, like “Only US,” found their way into that medley, to an extravagant crowd response. Something about the mixture of down-residence truth-telling and fashionable concision in Withers’ tracks was a natural in shape for James, whose voice occupies a similar register, and whose profile has likewise chop across several subcategories of dark music.


So today James is which makes it official, announcing a fresh tour, “Lean On Me: José James Celebrates Bill Withers,” that will culminate in a vinyl album up coming year. His band, manufactured up of critical jazz musicians – Sullivan Fortner on keyboards, Brad Allen Williams on guitar, Ben Williams on bass and Nate Smith on drums – backs him in this video effectiveness of “Better Off Dead.”

Withers, whose 80th birthday falls next 12 months, never shied from difficult subjects while a songwriter. His followers know “Better Off Dead” as the closing an eye on his landmark 1971 album Just simply As I Am. The song is a suicide take note in verse form, kept by an alcoholic despairing that his wife provides deserted with their children. (The track ends with a gunshot.)

The bleak pathos of the tune is tempered in this arrangement, which James bends into a funk jam: reshaping the contour and cadence of the melody, “remixing” his own phrases in real time. True to create, there’s a good quotation of “Ain’t No Sunshine” during an extended outro tag.

The video was filmed at the Schott NYC factory, which explains the rack of motorcycle jackets at one end of the frame. Along with James’ in-the-pocket vocal delivery, it’s an effective showcase for the band. Fortner’s Fender Rhodes solo is usually a study in churchly soul, and Smith provides the same magnetic existence he brought to a recently available Tiny Desk Concert.

“Lean On Me: José James Celebrates Bill Withers” will have its premiere through the 2018 NYC Winter Jazzfest, on Jan. 11 at Le Poisson Rouge. For tour dates, go to

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