When an artist prepares to release a sophomore album, they also prepare for the onslaught of throwback comparisons and sometimes unfair expectations of repeat performance should that debut have been successful. In some cases, it becomes glaringly apparent that the artist made concerted efforts to do just that. Still others will present a body of work that is a complete and intentional departure. And then there's Jason Walker, whose sophomore release for Junior Vasquez Music, Flexible, lives up to its name in glorious harmony, perhaps even exceeding its predecessor's commercial potential.
Written primarily in the wake and ashes of a failed relationship in his own life, the songs on Flexible are immediately relevant and inevitably personal, becoming the means to turn something bad into something truly good. Throughout the album, Jason breathes believability and life into each track by taking on the personality and character of the viewpoint from which each is written. He sings passionately, flippantly, and sometimes he's downright mad, but in every case he makes the case from the singer's point of view, and you're left nodding you're head in agreement and saying "Yeah, that's right!" Before you know it, you're pulled into Jason's world, and flying high on his journey through dance, big-room, pop, electro and soul. There's something here for everyone, and that is the true hallmark of being "flexible."
As an artist who actually wanted to be a dance artist, the lead single from the album, "I Can't Get You Off My Mind," is evidence of his dedication to the genre. A piano-driven anthem much reminiscent of Vasquez's now classic remix to "Brazen (Weep)" by Skunk Anansie in 1997, the track carries the vocal to blissful heights without a breakdown or distraction in sight. The accompanying video produced for the single was Jason's first (which is hard to believe after his first album spawned four number one dance singles), and it underlines his talent as a dancer as well as a singer. In an ironic coincidence, it features a performance artist who is also "flexible" in the craft of artistic contortionism. Although perhaps unintentional, the video pays homage to one of the dance genre's icons, Madonna, as there are scenes of bodies glistening with metallic paint a la her "Fever" video, and vogueing matches that would send even the confident Material Girl scrambling for a new dance instructor. Jason's live performances are always electrifying and stylish, often with the help of New York's legendary House of Ninja by his side, and he brings this energy to the video with great success, with his own golden, toned body the delicious centerpiece of the action. The song was one of Junior's favorites when the project was underway, and it's easy to understand why.
By far the best contender for the next—and perhaps biggest—single from the album is the title track "Flexible." Penned by veteran songwriter Billie Myers, whose poignant "Kiss The Rain" became one of the definitive movie ballads of the 90's, "Flexible" shoulders a message of optimism and strength with an alternative lifestyle slant and undefeatable dance edge. Having recently had her own success story on the charts with the somewhat controversial dance track "Just Sex," Myers muses in the lyric, "He's gay, he's straight, he's black and he's white… he'll be anything you want him to be tonight," and you have to wonder if that finger is pointed directly at Jason Walker. Having been the "little white boy" who performed at the predominantly black Apollo Theater in his early career, and having that voice often mistaken for a soulful diva instead of the scruffy-faced, "all-man" body that houses it, Jason has definitely walked the line of every facet the lyric suggests, and his passionate delivery gives the song a complex dynamic that is inadvertently autobiographical. Already an anthem in its album form, this track is destined to make music history in its remix package if the label chooses wisely and places its components in the right hands for the job. My advice? Think outside the American box…Thomas Gold or Bimbo Jones come to mind.
The entire first half of the album is an aerobic instructor's dream, staying at a frantic-yet-anthemic pace that keeps the soul energized and the feet poised to move. Notable tracks include Jason's rendition of the classic Jackie Moore song "This Time Baby," which was recently sampled and reinvented by the Freemasons as "Love On My Mind" and will be lyrically recognizable to anyone who has been clubbing in the last twelve months, regardless of your familiarity with the original. "101" pulls to the front with it's thundering beats, and "Foolish Love (I'm Sorry)," (written by fellow JVM artist Deepa Soul, whose "As I Am" burned charts two summers ago) has Jason playing role-reversal to see heartache and break-up from "the other lover's" perspective. Not many of us can truly claim to be "flexible" enough to try our hands at that, but Jason does it without flinching.