Louisiana native Jon Batiste is a star — there is no question. Throughout the past year, he has been busy with numerous projects and performances, including co-engineering the original motion picture soundtrack for “Soul”, appearing at the Juneteenth celebration in Brooklyn, and continuing his work as the musical director for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert where he performs with his band, Stay Human. The Juilliard graduate was also nominated for two Grammys and one Academy Award. Jon Batiste returns on his new studio album as a household name. “We Are” is filled with 13 tracks of soulful optimism, gorgeous vocals, and often playful tones. It is a harmonious collection that goes by much too fast.
The album’s opening and title track features the St. Augustine High School Marching 100, of whom Batiste himself was a previous member. It is a jubilant triumph, a celebration of black lives, and acts as a prelude to the rest of the record. On “Cry”, Batiste examines the state of our world throughout this past year’s pandemic and social unrest, singing, “Cry, cry, cry, for the loss of the innocence.” The track’s unhurried drum line and background “oohs” echo the sense of longing created with his lyrics.
The record’s next song is an instant hit, and offers a completely different sound than “Cry”. In the words of Batiste, “I Need You” is “the same message as “Cry”, but it’s the opposite. It’s black social music mixed in with a pop song.” Not to mention, the music video for “I Need You” may be the best we’ve seen in 2021. You should also check out Batiste’s performance of the song on his NPR Tiny Desk Concert where he shows off his incredible vocal range, while blending genres and time periods. The same could genuinely be said for every other song on the record.
On “Boy Hood”, Batiste channels his experiences from growing up in the South. Features from PJ Morton and Trombone Shorty create a melody that immerses the listener, making it feel like one is growing up alongside Batiste. “Adulthood” is a melodious and groovy tune featuring the New Orleans based Hot 8 Brass Band. “Freedom” and “Show Me The Way” mix soul and pop effortlessly, and with successive listens, fans will notice musical components they formerly missed. Batiste validates himself as a master of musical theory throughout “We Are”.
As a multi-talented instrumentalist, vocalist, and social activist, Jon Batiste has already accomplished so much at the age of 34. “We Are” is an anthem for his life thus far, celebrating his upbringing and experiences. In his words, the record “celebrates Black American culture and music.” It also nods to past sounds and artists while making jazz and soul elements universal. The album is unlike anything Batiste has yet released, but simultaneously, long-time listeners will recognize its craftsmanship as none other than that of Batiste. In short, nobody else could have put this beautiful medley of songs and sounds together. Jon Batiste is a jack of many trades and a man on a mission — “We Are” is further proof of this. These days, he is certainly hard to miss, so keep him on your radar.
Written by Sean Joseph Pino
Sean is a writer of poetry, prose, and essays from Los Angeles, California. As a current medical student, his fascination with the human condition inspires much of his work. He loves pressing into the emotions and cognitions that unite us. His poetry and novels can be found on the following website: seanjpinowrites.wordpress.com
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