Critic’s Notebook: Jose James, Kevin Gates, Mikky Echo

Notable recordings from the world of pop music.

Jose James (Janette Beckman)

Jose James (Janette Beckman)

Jose James

Ever since jazz vocalist Jose James released his sumptuous new solo album, “No Beginning No End,” a few weeks back, it’s been easy — and totally unfair —  to think of it as a consolation prize for that eternally delayed D’Angelo disc we may never get to hear.

That’s because James employs many of the tools and moods that helped define D’Angelo’s Y2K R&B masterstroke “Voodoo” — time is often kept in rim shots, horns seem to spill instead of burst, grooves assert themselves in soft focus. But James’s backing musicians —  who include the pianist and jazz-hip-hop hybridist Robert Glasper — are too smart to try  to re-create the ineffable alchemical grease of a D’Angelo recording. Instead, the funk is kept clean, allowing the 35-year-old singer’s temperate baritone to hold the center.

Kevin Gates

Whether he’s rhyming about getting mean-mugged at Boston Market or crooning about his own mortality, this Baton Rouge rapper’s sing-songy sense of rhythm is easy to fall for. His latest mix tape, “The Luca Brasi Story,” echoes the lyrical hopscotch of Young Dro and the melodic melodrama of Future. But with “Hero,” a verbose account of trying to survive the drug game and the rap game at once, Gates is entirely his own blabbermouth.

Listen: “Hero”

Mikky Echo

So who was that skull-capped mystery man duetting with Rihanna at Sunday night’s Grammy awards? His name is Mikky Ekko, he’s a singer, songwriter and preacher’s kid from Louisiana, and his brand-new “Tracks” EP appears to have been rushed to market in time to capitalize on the big TV appearance.

As a vocalist, Ekko isn’t in any kind of hurry, though. In “Pull Me Down,” a sweet and smoggy ballad co-produced by Clams Casino, he sings about love as if it’s an undertow carrying him out to sea: “Your name is a wave washing over me.”

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