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José James’s ‘While You Were Sleeping’

A blast of Hendrixian guitar opens “While You Were Sleeping,” singer José James’s fifth album; a close cover of the hushed Al Green masterpiece “Simply Beautiful” closes it. Stretched between these sonic and iconic markers are 12 tracks with all the stylistic freedom we’ve come to expect of James — an equal aficionado of chamber jazz and left-field electro-soul club settings — and today’s swelling movement, hosted in part at Blue Note, that is reuniting disparate strands of soul, rock, and jazz traditions. Compared to James’s 2013 breakout “No Beginning No End,” this one is bigger, thicker, less sensual but arguably just as sexy. James is most compelling when he brings out the yearning and hesitancy in his voice; his musicians are all-terrain, from blunt foursquare rock to soft, woozy textures that foreground nuance, as on guest singer Becca Stevens’s “Dragon.” The album’s anchor is the title track, a lost-love ballad with barely-quelled epic inclinations. (Out Tuesday) Siddhartha Mitter

Essential “While You Were Sleeping”