Audio Mixer: Blake Eiseman.
Recording information: Castle Hill Studios, Atlanta, GA; The Corner Studios, Noho, CA.
Photographer: Lionel Deluy.
Life on Earth is Taalib Johnson's first proper album in five years, and his first set released outside the major-label system. After six albums for Def Soul and Atlantic, and the Shanachie-supported 9ine, a reggae-oriented Syleena Johnson collaboration, the singer known as Musiq Soulchild resurfaces on My Block, the eOne-affiliated boutique label run by Grammy-winning producer Warryn Campbell (Mary Mary, Kanye West). Johnson and Campbell previously worked together on Luvanmusiq and OnMyRadio, both of which topped Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop album chart. The two pick up here where they left off. Nothing here is out of step with anything from Johnson's earlier releases. It's all comfortable, soul-rooted R&B with occasional throwback references, such as the opener's rhythmic likeness to "Rapper Dapper Snapper" and the familiar breakbeat that propels highlight "Heart Away." "Loving You," co-written by Raphael Saadiq, is one of the singer's most ardent ballads, all slinking drums and shadowy synthesizers, its chorus feels like After 7's "Ready or Not" stretched out, as heard in a dream that plays out in slow motion. On the coasting "Changed My Mind," Johnson makes like a less extroverted Maurice White, granted a backdrop that bears some resemblance to Earth, Wind & Fire's "Can't Hide Love." The conflicted moments, as expected, are handled in sensitive and loving fashion, as on the soul-jazz-infused "Far Gone," featuring a typically layered Rapsody verse, and the Songs in the Key of Life-like "Walk Away," where simple words of wisdom are delivered with too much warmth to be disregarded as trite. Johnson is as reliable and as mature as ever here, and it looks like he finally got rid of that malfunctioning space bar. ~ Andy Kellman