Close your eyes for a moment, we’re going to take a little trip to the past. Its eighth-grade and you’re at a dance in your school’s gym. You’re wearing your flyest clothes and determined to be as cool as possible when suddenly a slow jam comes on. You walk right up to that girl or guy you’ve been eyeing in English class, ask them to dance, and spend the next four minutes slowly spinning in a circle to the hottest R&B jam of the day. It’s one of the best night’s of your life. What …
Fans can also check out Joe's previous albums: Joe Thomas - DoubleBack: Evolution of R&B
DJBooth Album Review
What does this have to do with Joe? His latest album Ain’t Nothin’ Like Me is full of slow piano laced tracks featuring Joe singing lyrics that would meet the approval of any teacher. In other words it’s perfect school dance material. With a few notable exceptions the production is formulaic, Joe’s vocals are solid but never impressive, and lyrically he plays it safe. There isn’t much to hate here, but there also isn’t much to love. Ain’t Nothin Like Me will be embraced by fans, produce a couple of moderately successful singles, and then quietly fade into the pages of R&B history.
It’s Me is a perfect example of Joe’s ability to pump out enjoyable but forgettable jams. The track is built around a soft piano melody, steady percussion, and lyrics that border on cliché; Joe explains why he cheated on his woman by crooning “it’s not you girl it’s me,” not exactly the most heartfelt apology of all time. There are a number of tracks on the album that are essentially interchangeable: the Jodeci-esque You Should Know Me, the smoothed out My Love, and the Smokey Robinson “Tears of a Clown” tribute/rip-off Life of the Party all travel down the same well worn R&B road.
Joe seems to pop up every couple of years with a surprisingly catchy single (“Stutter” anyone?) and Ain’t Nothin Like Me is no different. The Stargate produced If I Was Your Man features their trademark heavy percussion overlaid with simple harmonies that will stick in your head for days. Joe spends the song singing simply and softly, and this stripped down approach feels more honest than his more dramatic attempts. Where You At is another track that deserves some attention. The quiet rhythmic beat sounds like a gentler version of The Whisper Song, Joe injects some legitimate soul into his lyrics, and an introspective Papoose puts in a quality guest verse. Both songs should have females swooning and guys looking to set the mood reaching for the play button.
When Joe is pushed out of his slow-jam comfort zone the results can be remarkable. Get to Know Me stands out from the crowd with a bouncing beat and a distinctly Asian vibe. More importantly (and surprisingly) Nas lays down two respectable verses. The title track Ain’t Nothin Like Me is also the best on the album. It’s not easy to make a beat featuring a banjo and a flute sound hot, but The Underdogs pull it off nicely and the normally sedate Joe manages to find some vocal swagger. G-Unit’s Tony Yayo and Young Buck even show up to provide some much needed heat, though I’m still trying to figure out how a man with handguns tattooed on his stomach ends up on a Joe song. Hip-hop collaborations, there’s nothing like them.
Ain’t Nothin Like Me is the type of album you could play at a wedding, it has enough energy to keep people on the dance floor but isn’t loud enough to send Grandma running for cover. That kind of mass appeal should be a legitimate source of pride for Joe, it’s just not going to put him in the R&B hall of fame anytime soon. Now the eighth-grade dance hall of fame, that’s another story.
Listen to More: Joe Written by Nathan S.
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"If I Was Your Man" (2007)
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