Last week, The News & Observer spoke with Paul Janeway, lead singer of St. Paul and the Broken Bones, and we mentioned that one of the group’s songs was used on the “Fifty Shades of Grey” soundtrack (Janeway was surprisingly unaware of the movie’s racy content). This week, we have Jose James, a performer whose music not only is featured on the soundtrack of that movie’s recently released sequel, “Fifty Shades Darker,” but he’s in the movie as well.
James was cast to play the Sinatra-style crooner who performs “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” during an integral charity ball the movie’s lead lovebirds Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) attend.
“It was great, man,” says James, 39, on the phone from his Manhattan home. “I got to record two songs for the movie and soundtrack, ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ and ‘They Can’t Take That Away from Me.’ We did it at Capitol (Records), in the original room, on the original microphones that Sinatra cut, you know, the original ones, man. So, it was a blast.”
So, how did James end up being in the movie and on the soundtrack?
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“I think what (the filmmakers) wanted was somebody who had that authentic jazz background and history who could actually deliver that song in a jazz style, but who had that kind of, like, contemporary swag as well,” he says. “And I think it’s a short list, honestly. And I was happy to make that cut, man.”
While James, who will be performing at Durham’s Motorco Music Hall Friday night, does have an authentic jazz background, which led to his signing at legendary jazz label Blue Note Records in 2012, James’ music can veer off into many different genres, from jazz to R&B to hip-hop to even electronica. Much like how fellow neo-soulster Meshell Ndegeocello can turn her music into a genre-bouncing journey, James does the same thing with his work.
Coming from Minneapolis, the home of the eternally unclassifiable black-music icon Prince, it’s expected that James would follow in a similar path. (He also counts his father, Latin saxophonist/percussionist Jose James Sr., as a big influence.) But he also gets inspiration from many of his contemporaries.
“I spent a solid three or four years being a fan of all the new music by really everybody from – who was at the time a newcomer – Anderson .Paak, Kehlani, all the way up to Drake and Rihanna,” he says. “For me, you know, I spent a lot of time working and living in London as well, and that electronic scene is big in my story. And so, I’ve always been attracted to The xx or FKA Twigs, James Blake, people like that.”
This may explain why his latest album, “Love in a Time of Madness,” is a departure from his previous work. The album has an alt-R&B vibe that’s similar to The Weeknd (who became a star when he contributed the Oscar-nominated “Earned It” to the first “Grey” soundtrack). But James insists he’s not trying to bite The Weeknd’s style; he’s merely going in a different direction, which he regularly does.
“Anybody who knows me, who really knows my career and knows my track record, they know that I never make the same album twice,” he says. “They know that I’ve been doing electronic music, working with Flying Lotus and Moodymann and Taylor McFerrin, since 2009 and 2010. So, anybody who – here’s what I’m saying, if you scratch the surface, you can hear the musicality, you can hear the songwriting, you hear the Jose James.”
Who: Jose James, with Nate Smith, Corey King and DJ Remy
When: 9 p.m. Friday
Where: Motorco Music Hall, 723 Rigsbee Ave., Durham
Info: 919-901-0875 or motorcomusic.com