James Lidell's Building A Beginning is a soulful toast to family life

James Lidell is back with his new album, Building A Beginning.
James Lidell is back with his new album, Building A Beginning. PHOTO: JAMES LIDELL /FACEBOOK

That ridiculous soulful voice is still in fine fettle, but Jamie Lidell is a changed man. Fatherhood and new contractual independence mean that the Englishman has reexamined and reprioritised what is important to him.

He got hitched in 2012, left revered English electronica label Warp after issuing his 2013 electro-funk, self- titled album, moved house to Nashville and his wife, Lindsey Rome, gave birth to their son, Julian, last year.

His seventh record, Building A Beginning, is shorn of the glittery studio wizardry that sometimes infested his past releases, yet it still feels plugged-in and lived-in. Names such as Stevie Wonder and Teddy Pendergrass have been invoked to describe the effort.

It is not retro or needlessly nostalgic, by any means. With lyrics co-penned with Rome, the album is, yes, a celebration of marriage, contentment and family life, but it is also an adult examination of the hard work and sacrifices - all the unglamorous, less showy bits - that go into any relationship. The focus has shifted.

  • SOUL/POP

  • BUILDING A BEGINNING

    Jamie Lidell

    Jajulin Records

    4/5 stars

"Building a beginning, baby, with you… cos it feels so right," sings Lidell in that distinctive voice - raspy, sexy and topped with a dollop of nerdy earnestness. He does not rush, rolling each syllable in his mouth like a lollipop he could not get enough of. The guitars tease and squiggle gently. Marriage takes time, indeed.

This is followed by an upbeat soul funkster, Julian, an ode to his son. You feel his ebullience, but it is rooted in a paternal realisation that he has to be responsible for his past demeanours. "There's no way I can erase who I've been… You're the only reality worth understanding," he sings.

At times, when things get too dewy-eyed, Lidell's wonderfully lissome voice means you never doubt his sincerity. Try resisting the earworm chorus of How Did I Live Before Your Love, a lovely doozie rolling along on a reggae lilt, as the guy repeats the title like besotted knight Lancelot pining for his queen, Guinevere.

Marital bliss - the sort hard-earned from commitment and compromise - infuses a string of gems in the latter half of the album. He coos in the starlit In Love And Alone, quietly observant and appreciative. He sways and swings in the stunning Motionless. A gospel choir echoes his devotion.

That devotion does not waver when things are not so rosy. He sounds utterly vulnerable in the kiss-and- make-up ballad, Believe In Me. "You've always been there for me, now what is left of me/Baby please, don't make me cry," he pleads over menacing bass, an insistent ivory plink and handclaps.

The intimate and the communal culminate in the atmospheric, soulful symphony, Don't Let Me Let You Go, as he pronounces the title as a refrain, a declaration of their intertwined fates.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2016, with the headline 'Soulful toast to family life'. Print Edition | Subscribe