When Maroon 5 announced their Overexposed album, I did a double take when I realized that there was a new member. Keyboardist PJ Morton joined Adam Levine and co. for their most recent album and tour, and has since gone on to release his first major label album, New Orleans, on hometown label Young Money. So, to encapsulate, the black dude from Maroon 5 just released an album on the hottest rap label around. Roll that around in your head for a little bit.
Fortunately, New Orleans sounds like nothing the home of Birdman & Lil Wayne has put out thus far (unless you count the one Teena Marie album they released.) It’s a smooth, polished collection of mature R&B–the type of which barely even exists anymore. There are no club bangers, no excursions into electro, no overtly sexual lyrics, nothing especially daring/esoteric, and only one guest rapper (who appears for about 30 seconds.) If I were to make a comparison, I would liken New Orleans to a pretty good Brian McKnight album, maybe. Or Joe.
Those in the know are aware that Morton is no neophyte. Prior to joining Maroon 5, he’d already released several albums in the independent sector; and had also written songs for a sea of artists in both R&B and gospel. So, while New Orleans might be the average person’s introduction to PJ; it would be obvious from the polish and professionalism of the songs alone that this isn’t his first time at the rodeo.
Vocally, it should be pretty obvious that Morton takes his cues from Stevie Wonder, and he was able to land the legend himself on the synthesizer-drenched “Only One.” Hearing Stevie’s harmonica is always a treat, and the end result is something that would’ve fit neatly on, say…a Foreign Exchange album (if you’re not familiar and you’re an R&B fan, I just gave you the best tip you’ll receive all day.) The spare “Work it Out” is another highlight, and as a whole, New Orleans is more consistent than the average R&B album.
While most of the songs are synthesizer-based (hey, the guy’s a keyboardist,) PJ brings in a live band element as well. “Always Be” has a light California-soul vibe that calls to mind Off the Wall, while several tracks flirt lightly with rock-ier elements. Of course, this includes the expected Adam Levine cameo on “Heavy.”
Overall, New Orleans is a pretty accomplished album, and a welcome throwback at a time when it seems like R&B as a commercial powerhouse is on its deathbed. It’s not very fussy, not very showy, but it is good. If you’re a fed up R&B fan and need a reminder that there’s still good music out there, you could do a hell of a lot worse than New Orleans.