Eldorado (released May 27, 2016)
As a music fan, there’s no better feeling than watching a talented artist finally get the recognition he deserves.
Ro James has had my ear for several years now, mostly thanks to the coverage of my dudes over at YouKnowIGotSoul.com. But a few months ago, I was pretty shocked when his name came up in a random conversation among friends on Facebook.
“How do you know Ro James?!” I asked that friend with my usual incredulousness.
“‘Permission’ is my song!,” she replied. Others hopped in the convo too — pointing out that “Permission,” James’ major-label debut single, had been burning up radio playlists.
That’s what I get for boycotting the radio. I miss out on good songs actually being in rotation every once in awhile.
I’m just glad the secret’s out and Ro James is getting long-overdue accolades. His first LP, Eldorado, continues to build upon the promise we first heard all those years ago.
As you’d probably guess, “Permission” is the gem that shines brightest here, a midtempo groove that glides like a summer breeze. But it’s strength is in its staying power: It’s infused with so much gritty passion that it sticks with the listener long after the record spins. It’s almost like an extension of D’Angelo’s Brown Sugar album — it’s cut from that same soulful, smokey mold.
But don’t expect James to rehash the past glory of his predecessors. While the influence of legends like D’Angelo and (especially) Prince are evident, James wisely finds his own lane.
Album opener “The Ride” is powered by the bass-heavy, dank production that is all the rage these days. Call it “Alternative R&B” if you want, but James proves he’s way ahead of curve. While his peers emphasize style over substance, mumbling lazy lyrics over murky production, James pairs his soundscapes with infectious harmonies and solid writing. Each track has meaning, and each one resonates.
“Burn Slow” is a smoldering bedroom burner while “Already Knew That” is much more playful, accented with a few nods to hip-hop. (“I’m like a young Marvin in his hey” — my rap fans will get that reference).
The second half of Eldorado really allows Ro to showcase his pen. “Even though I have it all, truth is I need something to believe in,” he confesses on “New Religion,” where he confronts his growing need to mature. “Holy Water” resounds with poignant wisdom — rainfall isn’t all about misery, it can wash away pain too.
The title track travels the well-worn road of comparing a woman to a vintage car, but James focuses on his own introspection instead of dropping constant metaphors. It’s a much better direction. And simply from the title alone, I expected “A.D.I.D.A.S. (All Day I)” to be some sort of thirst-trap track. Instead, it’s a surprisingly tender ballad that’s much more romantic than raunchy.
There are very few missteps on Eldorado. Ro’s vocals get a bit lost among the overpowering synths of “GA$” but even that doesn’t ruin the experience. From the acoustic wonderment of “Everything” to the rapture of “Last Cigarette” — which sounds like a Prince tribute, down to the ad-libs — Eldorado almost always hits the mark.
Thanks to the influence of James’ musical muses, and his willingness to expand his sound beyond conventional borders, Eldorado appeals to both conventional R&B fans and younger listeners. He’s no longer the indie rookie I knew, he’s found his lane.
The road to Eldorado has been long but it has clearly been worth the wait. I’m just glad y’all are listening.
Best tracks: “Permission,” “The Ride,” “Eldorado”
4 stars out of 5