Jeffrey Osborne’s long-awaited new CD, Music Is Life, not only has the distinction of being the christening release of Jay Oz Records, his own recording label through a unique agreement with the Number One independent record company in America, KOCH Entertainment; the collection, co-produced and co-written by Osborne, marks the artist’s 30th year since the release of his very first album as the drummer for the R&B group L.T.D. in 1973.
From his humble beginnings as a drummer in his hometown of Providence, Rhode Island, to his rise to the pinnacle of R&B stardom, Jeffrey Osborne has unequivocally made his mark on contemporary music.
It is fitting therefore that Music Is Life is perhaps Osborne’s most compelling album to date. It is a collection of music that artfully explores a modern urban vitality without neglecting the classic R&B sensibilities that for three decades have made Osborne a premiere voice in popular music. The work is a celebration of both quintessential Jeffrey Osborne and the artist as he’s never been heard before.
Music is Life is Osborne at his apex: tracks such as the mid-tempo “Ain’t No More,” about a love gone bad; the catchy “When You Love Me” and “I Don’t Know,” a so-right groove about a day that went so wrong, is the Osborne longtime fans know and love, while the hip-hop flavored “Kisses,” the dark, urgent “Caller I.D.” and the lush, expansive “Pretty Thing” find Osborne forging terrain new to his trademark voice.
“The Rest of Our Lives,” a big, sweeping ballad Osborne wrote specifically as a wedding song, will undoubtedly be adopted as such; just as the certified head bobber “One Love” – chronicle of the onset of the almighty weekend – is destined to become a club and party anthem.
“Say You've Had Enough” and “Love The Pain Away” are both achingly sexy ballads, while the track “Stranger” is anything but, it being a remake of the 1974 L.T.D. favorite. Osborne has breathed new life into the song, transforming a classic into a modern standard. Indeed, it feels just like “Paradise,” a breezy melodic wonder with a feel-good hook.
The title track, “Music Is Life,” says it all. A funky, dynamic, impassioned ode to mother music, it sways with love and reverence to the thing that makes the world go ‘round.
Music Is Life is not a veteran artist trying to be something he is not; on the contrary, this is very much where Osborne has always been, with one foot in the tried and true, the other in what is fresh.
“This record will surprise people,” smiles Osborne. “It is the record I've wanted to make for awhile now, and finally said, ‘It’s now or never.’ I wanted to do something that was more youthful musically while maintaining my lyrical integrity, and I wanted to do it on my own label for a change – take a chance on myself.”
To assist him in his musical mission, Osborne shunned the usual suspects to collaborate with members of his musical family – primarily road band members Suamana “Swoop” Brown on keyboards and drum programming and keyboardist Ming Freeman, both of who co-wrote with Osborne.
Keyboardist Frankie Crawford and guitarist Kevin Chokan round out the recording fold, with Osborne buddy Tony Maiden of the legendary band Rufus adding tasty guitar to several tracks. Engineer Khaliq Glover, another Osborne stalwart, recorded and mixed the project, recorded in its in entirety at Osborne's recording studio.
Says Osborne, “The feel is different from my last recording [2002’s That’s For Sure, including the sultry single and title track issued on the Private Music/Windham Hill label]. It’s me, but it’s something else, too. I have to say that I haven't been this excited about hearing reaction to a recording of mine in a long time.”
Indeed, the man music industry publication Radio and Records declared “the number one hit maker of the 1980s” has been making music a long time. Beginning with Jeffrey Osborne, his 1982 debut A&M solo album featuring the hit singles, “I Really Don't Need No Light” and the instant standard ballad, “On The Wings Of Love,” Osborne has charted a sure and passionate musical course. A&M and Arista albums such as Stay With Me Tonight, Don’t Stop, One Love, One Dream and Only Human and singles like “Stay With Me Tonight,” “We’re Going All The Way,” “The Last Time I Made Love” and “Only Human” easily transcended being hits to become R&B/pop classics.
But then Osborne – who as a teen augmented local bands as a self-taught drummer before concentrating on development as a vocalist – has been a prominent figure on the pop music scene since 1976, when L. T. D. (Love, Togetherness and Devotion), the band he fronted, broke through with the Billboard R&B #1/pop #20 hit, “Love Ballad.”
Osborne’s mighty voice was the center of a series of subsequent gold and platinum L.T.D. albums, including Love To The World, Something To Love, Togetherness and Devotion and the funky 1977 barn burning single, “Back In Love Again.” Indeed, it was during Osborne’s stellar vocal performances on such tracks as “(Won't Cha) Stay With Me,” from Something to Love and “We Both Deserve Each Other’s Love” and Concentrate on You,” both from the 1978’s Togetherness, that the Osborne legacy – his distinctively soulful way with melody and lyric – was established. In 1982 he left the band to pursue a solo career and hasn’t looked back since.
Meanwhile, Osborne enjoys a distinction that no other pop singer has achieved: A place in the annals of professional sports as the official singer of the National Anthem for NBA champions the Los Angeles Lakers and most in-demand singer of the Anthem in the history of professional sports.
What began on the Lakers’ home court in 1979, when Magic Johnson was the team’s star rookie, has 20 years later, earned Osborne four Laker championship rings and a reputation for game time magic that other teams want to harness. He’s sung the anthem for the Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers for over twenty years, and at most heavyweight championship fights. “It’s the funniest thing,” says Osborne, bashful about the notion that his pipes might bring a bit of luck to a team or athlete. “I don’t know if there is anything to it, but when I sing at home court, the Lakers usually win.”