Pitchfork (Website) - "Tenderness is as inherent to Chicago soul music as the bass drop is to EDM, and BJ is surpassingly tender here, but that doesn't mean he's shy."
Photographer: The Young Astronauts.
Bryan James Sledge's first proper album has been a long time coming -- well over a decade, by one measure. He made a somewhat inconspicuous entry during the early 2000s, singing backup for Mary Mary, appearing on Stevie Wonder's A Time to Love, and writing songs for gospel and R&B artists. He continued to operate in the church and on the streets; the same year "A City Called Heaven," written with brother Aaron, was recorded by Shirley Caesar, he appeared on Kendrick Lamar's "Faith." Motown signed Sledge in 2012 and quickly issued a highlight from his self-released Pineapple Now-Laters. For a few years, however, their new artist was more visible as a guest on high-charting albums like Oxymoron, Woman, and Compton. Those who wanted Sledge to shine on his own had their frustration compounded by a concurrent string of headlining singles. Though the releases were strong, each one featured a rapper and generated no commercial momentum. In My Mind, released almost four years after the Motown deal was struck, contains the 2015 A-sides and is constricted somewhat by a succession of guest verses. Granted, those verses come from the complementary likes of Lamar, Chance the Rapper, and Big K.R.I.T. More crucially, Sledge and his behind-the-scenes associates, siblings Aaron and Scooter included, ably mix old-school soul and gospel with contemporary touches that never verge on the detached, inebriated sounds that occupy commercial radio playlists. In fact, Sledge tauntingly dismisses that element of his genre, as he sings with sweetened swagger over a Raphael Saadiq retro-soul nugget, "Cupid's too busy in the club, at the bar, rollin' up," and he follows that with a heartfelt ballad that honors women more convincingly than anything on R. Kelly's Love Letter. Though he certainly has a bad boy streak, Sledge is no man-child, neither sounding like one nor writing from that perspective, whether he's testifying to his woman or conveying the conflict of being pulled by vices and faith. Crowded and long overdue as it is, In My Mind is a satisfying and mature showcase for one of the most skilled and creative talents in R&B. ~ Andy Kellman