One of the things about Jamie Lidell – that people have yet to fully understand – is that the English-born singer has one of the best voices in the music industry. He’s fashioned a strong sense for the soul leanings of his music, as well as the influences he shares from the worlds of jazz, hip-hop, funk, R&B, pop and more; it’s made him a fascinating musician and one that very honestly, is peaking at just the right time. After taking some time off to tour and to get even more into his talents as a singer and musician, Lidell is a force to be reckoned with in every possible way. His new direction has turned a relatively open sound into something joyous and all-encompassing.
On Compass’ title track, Lidell sings on top of what seams to be nothing more than a solidly rendered acoustic guitar. He sounds refreshed and somewhat groggy, as he is still trying to find his way in the world. The title bears a lot of significance because as the song progresses, Lidell adds background vocalists, strings and a swirl of noise before backing off, lowering the knob from ten to one and singing, “Now I know, the only compass that I need…leads back to you.” Still, to this day, taking everything we know about love songs, about heartbreak and its vicious treatment of people and heartache and the long-term effect it has, Lidell still has the ability to sing in a whole new different manner about it.
It’s not that Jim was so much of a lesser effort because truth be told, that album still doesn’t get nearly enough attention as it deserves but rather, Compass showcases a versatile, multi-talented, grooving Lidell. He sounds entirely evocative and propels the music forward with a blasting beat on the opener, “Completely Exposed,” and some times, underneath a cloudy southern drawl and beat, he sounds tenderly proven as a soul master, as he does on “I Can Love Again.” And again, on the latter he is singing about moving on after the break but as positive as he sounds, his voice recalls a lost feeling where everything will never be the same again. Ultimately, it portrays Lidell as a superb musician – one that knows exactly when and how to turn things up.
One of the many things to notice is that Lidell has done a lot of growing in the two years since Jim’s release. At the Austin City Limits festival in 2008, Lidell wowed the audience with a voice that transcended any kind of preconceived notions about genre, culture, race or even nationality. Often, Lidell would layer his voice on top of each other, adding instruments to the mix as he wished and his band was in memorization of his movements. And now, on Compass, he’s taken the reigns again, in a much bigger, fuller, substantially deeper style. Even on a more experimental song, like “I Wanna Be Your Telephone,” where Lidell cuts loose and breathes an air of nostalgia, he sounds fully aware of what’s going on around him. So much so, that the segue into “Enough’s Enough” comes atypically smooth, combining a smooth funk drive (the latter) from what was left of the atmospheric adventure (the former.)
Don’t forger that the album also features plenty of guest vocalists – everyone from the musicians that lend their talents to the instruments they play, or established artists that appear in small roles as guest singers. And while you’re remembering that, also be aware that this is still Jamie Lidell’s album: a forceful, superb slice of life. Please allow yourself to get lost in its sweeping scope of wonder because it is definitely sprawling. But mostly, we knew he’d be diverse, we just didn’t know it would be this good.