In recent years, jazz singer José James has recorded tribute albums that paid homage to both Billie Holiday and Bill Withers. He continued this theme on his new album No Beginning No End 2 by including a cover of another song by a guy named Billy. This time it’s Billy Joel’s much-maligned wedding staple “Just the Way You Are.”
With his new album Lean on Me, Blue Note artist José James provides track-by-track recreations of soul master Bill Withers’ best-known hits. James has a phenomenal voice that captures the spirit of the originals and would make him an ideal frontman for a Withers tribute act. As a result, the album’s biggest strength is also its biggest weakness. James mirrors Withers’ sound so precisely that you have to give each track a close listen to discern any differences between his versions and the originals. Unfortunately, in the streaming era this presents a conundrum: why should one listen to the perfect tribute and not just click on Withers’ originals?