an unabashed American Idol
season after season, religiously follow every week, down to
the bitter end, vote for my favorites. I pretend to be a music
industry executive, seeing if I can spot true star talent – Clivette
Davis, that’s me.
I admire the courage of the contestants. But most of all,
I love the band. They are the unsung heroes of the show. The
Rickey Minor Band can play any arrangement of any song from
any genre any time any where for any singer.
It’s been especially affirming to see our Paul Jackson,
Jr. up there week after week, performing with his signature
versatility, dexterity, and coolness. It makes me proud
to see one of our own showin’ his stuff in front of millions
and millions of viewers around the world. For the past
four seasons, Paul has been frequently asked by contestants
to provide up-front on-camera accompaniment to help them deliver
their best performances. Make no mistake; he is king of delivering
a song, no matter the style or genre. The thing about Paul’s
delivery on Idol or anywhere else,
no matter what song, Paul makes it warmer.
Lay It Back is Paul’s
new record, which came out on March 17th, from his family
run label, Branch Records, Inc.
It’s his 7th solo release, which is no small feat given
how busy this man is - more about that later. Those who
only know Paul from his TV appearances may be surprised to
know that his solo albums are in the style of urban-flavored
contemporary jazz with shades of R&B, jazz, pop, blues,
and down home, old school funk. And, man, is it good!
What first struck me about the new record was the superb,
high quality production – it sounds fantastic,
lush and warm. Then what grabbed my attention were the gorgeous
melodies. There is some really great songwriting on the
record. Paul wrote and/or co-wrote 10 of the 14 tracks.
Dave Delhomme wrote one and the other three are covers. Next,
I was so impressed with Paul’s skillful, inspired playing
style and the top drawer musicians who collaborate – they
are really cookin’! Each track has a lot going
on. The more I listened, the more I heard, like peeling
an onion, layer upon layer of coolness happening – tight,
dynamic horn sections, inventive guitar work, kickin’ bass,
really interesting percussion, vocals from Paul’s daughter
and son, some really amazing programming.
It goes without saying that Paul’s playing is that of
an extraordinarily gifted artist and consummate professional.
He alternates between acoustic and electric guitars, between
his meticulous fretwork and guitar plucking styles, which change
up musical textures throughout, keeping the feel novel, creative,
and intriguing. He makes it sound so effortless, like
easy flowing water.
Contributing artists include Paul’s mentor Patrice Rushen
on piano, keyboardist Bobby Lyle, Jeff Lorber on keys, Rex
Rideout on keys, bassist Alex Al, vocalist James Reese, and
arranger Ray Brown. Changing it up, some of the tracks were
recorded with The Rickey Minor Band and some with Paul’s
own funky band of gifted, much-sought-after players.
Paul played as well as produced most of the album. On the
tracks he didn’t produce alone, he shared the duties
with Jeff Lorber, Rex Rideout, Jeff Carruthers, Cornelius Mims
and Dave Delhomme.
A great way to kick off the album, “The Workout" is
a feisty collaboration with Jeff Lorber on piano, co-writing
and co-producing. Its tight horn sections were arranged
by Ray Brown, section leader of The Earth, Wind & Fire
Horns. Paul’s guitar carries the aggressive melody countered
with a signature Lorber funk jam and a strong bass performance
by Alex Al. The second collaboration with Jeff Lorber is "Lucy
The Cat.” It has a relaxed,
“summer atmosphere” feel and is adroitly accented
with Greg Mathieson's large horn section arrangement. Paul
plays with such heart, soul, and skill.
The title track, "Lay It Back," is a delicious R&B
groove, co-written and co-produced by the super talented Cornelius
Mims, Euge Groove’s former bass player. Between
Mims and Alex Al, they deliver a bottom bumpin’ bass
line while Paul riffs effortlessly. It’s one of
the hippest tracks on the record. It’s the first
track for radio to air. Call your local station and ask
them to play it.
Paul is marvelous on three faithful covers, Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t
You Worry Bout A Thing,”Lionel Richie’s “Easy
(Like Sunday Morning),” and a lesser
known, Leroy Hutson hit from the early ‘70s, "Can
This Be Real?" with James Reese doing the Bill Withers-like
romantic vocal and some really nice harmonies from the backing
singers which include Paul’s daughter Lindsey.
On acoustic guitar, Paul plays a gorgeously delicate, heartfelt
ballad "To Be Like Him." Patrice Rushen accompanies
on piano with Ray Brown horn arrangements carrying the lush
One of my favorites, "2 For 10,000," is an upbeat,
Bossa Nova-influenced track that grooves along. Paul’s
nimble-fingered masterful guitar is exciting to hear! Bobby
Lyle dazzles on piano. The track closes with interwoven piano
and guitar call-and-answer sequence. Exquisite!
Paul dedicated the utterly beautiful "Ballad For Uncle
Ronnie" to Luther Vandross. In a laid back, Wes
Montgomery-style, Paul’s guitar croons out the lovely
melody and improvises with great dexterity, underscored by
some solos from Bobby Lyle on acoustic piano.
Here’s another melodic treasure written and produced
by Paul, "Bay Shore Drive." It’s smooth
and easy style demonstrates that Paul holds his own at the
top of the smooth jazz scene.
"Hind's Feet" was co-written and co-produced with
It has some very hip production qualities, like an intricate
syncopation from the percussionist, featuring Freddie Flewellen's
stand out bass, all the while Paul plays as smooth as it comes.
The playful "Swing It" starts with a voice-over
saying “Ladies and Gentlemen, you are about to board
the Paul Jackson, Jr. funk train…”
and indeed we did! Some of Paul’s bluesy-est guitar
work, in the style of Johnny Guitar Watson and Bootsy Collins,
is delivered on this track.
It’s another edgy yet old school track co-written and
co-produced with Cornelius Mims. Both of Paul’s
children, Lindsey and Paul III, appear on this track.
And we come to the album’s close. Among my favorites
are the last two tracks: For “Hit It,” Paul
wrote, produced, played all instruments in this slice of distinctive, “current” urban
jazz. "Fourteen 'Til" was written by Dave Delhomme
and co-produced with Paul. It has a moody, atmospheric, bluesy,
late night, “Round Midnight” feel. Tasty!
All in all, Lay It Back is a very
satisfying listen. I come away with renewed admiration
for Paul Jackson, Jr. who is one magnificent musician and wonderfully
generous human being.
In case you aren’t aware of Paul’s contributions,
here’s a little background.
Are you aware how much this wunderkind has recorded? He’s
been a part of over 1,000 recordings!!! Google him sometime. Check
out his entire pedigree – it’s unbelievable – from
child actor to most-sought-after session player to rising star
in his own right. To put Paul’s career in perspective,
I’ll just name a few… Michael Jackson (Thriller,
History, and Bad,)
Luther Vandross, Quincy Jones, Steely Dan, Sir Elton John,
Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Madonna, Rod Stewart, Barbara
Streisand, Queen Latifah, Yolanda Adams, Ray Charles, Natalie
Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Sergio Mendes, Smokey Robinson, Anita
Baker, Barry Manilow, Bette Midler, Bobby Brown, Dionne Warwick,
Kenny Rogers, Teddy Pendergrass, The Temptations, Julio Iglesias,
Donna Summer, The Pointer Sisters, Chicago, George Duke, Stanley
Clarke, Al Jarreau, Tom Scott, Will Downing…are you
getting the picture?!
It’s taken Paul about 6 years in between solo albums
because he’s so in demand. In July, Paul had a chance
to play at a tribute to Quincy Jones during the Montreaux Jazz
Festival. As if he didn’t have enough to do with Idol,
he also plays on other national television shows including
the Grammy Awards, the NAACP
Image Awards, America’s Got
Talent, Don’t Forget The Lyrics, a new
show called Rediscovered, United
Negro College Fund, the Icon Awards honoring
Barry Gordy, and a Tribute to Patti LaBelle,
which will air later in the year. With Paul as music
director, the awards featured performances by Lionel Ritchie,
Herbie Hancock, Smokey Robinson, and Stevie Wonder.
Paul is also involved in film and television music projects.
His unique guitar licks can be heard on several movie and television
soundtracks including Tootsie, Rain Man, Heat of
the Night, and Soul Train.
Paul was the music director forThe American Cinema
Awards Show, which honored Bob Hope. He was also
music director for the sitcoms Martin and Townsend Television
and for Patti Austin as well as co-composer of the theme song
music for the movie, Undercover Brother,
and The Martin Lawrence Show, on
which he served as musical director.
For more information, visit www.pauljacksonjr.com.