Our influences often subtly guide our decisions in and perspectives of the world. With musicians, being able to tap into influences without becoming imitations that fall short is a real challenge. Many an artist has floundered because they are unable to find their voice beyond the musicians that influence them. Ronnie James Tucker, known as Ro James, has been able to establish his space amidst the multiple and diverse people and sounds that have inspired him, from David Bowie, Prince, and Sly and the Family Stone to D’Angelo, Notorious BIG and Otis Redding.
Born in Stuttgart, Germany to a military, and later, pastor father who would not allow him to listen to anything but church music, with a little Stevie Wonder, Donnie Hathaway and the like, Ro James still embraced different styles of music. Influence also came from the different spaces he grew up in, including Indiana, California, Hawaii, Oklahoma and New York, where, one could say, he found his true voice.
Holy Water: “…I’m running to the city, trying to find a reason, I’m trying to be a stronger man…I paid my way to win, I’m running from the city, coz found I found my reason…”
Holy Water captures both love, and how that inspires us in this journey through life, with its ebbs and flows, with the need to pick ourselves up, with a belief in the future, with hope amidst the confusion.
In the era of singles, with Permission being Ro James’ first single off the album Eldorado, the whole album, fortunately, is soulful and coherent, with each song able to hold its own while fitting into the full experience.
Permission samples the great Willie Hutch song Brother’s Gonna Work It Out, written and recorded for The Mack soundtrack, which Hutch recorded and produced. The sample creates a familiarity that draws you in and keeps you there, while Ro James lazily pleads for “a little time.” Sidebar: Hutch’s song has been sampled in an array of tracks, including Dr Dre’s Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat which features Snoop Dogg and RBX, 2Pac’s Definition Of A Thug Nigga (Poetic Justice soundtrack), Jaheim’s Looking For Love, Brandy’s As Long As You’re Here and Public Enemy’s Whole Lotta Love Goin’ On In The Middle Of Hell.
Burn Slow: “Don’t you lie, don’t you tell you go to work, baby, coz I can pay you for the whole weekend, I want to get lost with you…Waking up with you in the morning, it’s better than sunrise, so we can keep the curtain closed, Light a few more candles and burn ‘em slow…”
The album is extremely sensual album without being overtly sexual, even on A.D.I.D.A.S (All Day I) with the hook, ”…all day I dream of sexing you”, although, there are points where, lyrically, it borders on cliché. It, fortunately, doesn’t fall into the trap that so many R&B albums do today, trying to compete with the shallow, trap-filled hip pop that we are subjected to by mainstream music industry. In between the lines, Ro James articulates the struggle that many go through daily, finding the balance between love and lust, life and the darkness that lurks in the corners of our hearts, meaning and purpose.
New Religion: “She said ‘boy you need Jesus, I said get on your knees, that’s just how the dice rolls when you play this game with me, I done seen some things, that might test your faith, but I can’t be the only one in here that’s lost his way, I need a new religion…”
Eldorado isn’t ground-breaking but serves as a solid flag-in-the-ground for a first ‘mainstream’ release. I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds for Ro James musically. Check out this video which was shot on ‘Road to SXSW 2016’: