Release Date:
March 17, 2009

Reviewed by:
Anne Aufderheide

True confession...I’m an unabashed American Idol fan. Yup, 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 bridge.

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 Rex Rideout.  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