An elegant foray into late-night soul.
Daryl Easlea 2011
Soul tenor Donell Jones’ Where I Wanna Be is a perfect snapshot of US RnB/nu-soul at the turn of the 21st century. It is immaculately produced and delivered with great accomplishment. There is little room for spontaneity or error; it is highly polished soul at its super shiniest.
Jones' second album, this release heralded his musical maturity. The Chicago-born producer, guitarist and singer first came to prominence writing for Usher, Brownstone and 702 in the mid-90s. His debut album, 1996’s My Heart, was a good if occasionally naïve collection of originals and covers that often sounds like juvenilia in comparison to this, his largely self-penned masterpiece.
Recorded in New York with Jones playing most instruments and Babyface as its executive producer, Where I Wanna Be is an elegant foray into late-night soul. Although Jones draws his influences from a similar palette to many similar acts of the era (Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, Donny Hathaway), he makes music that sounds unique in an overcrowded genre.
U Know What’s Up was the album’s big hit. Featuring a rap by Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes from TLC, it’s a perfectly understated yet propulsive urban hit. Have You Seen Her features almost funereal beats that have an intoxicatingly soporific cumulative effect. To display that Jones was an analogue traveller in a digital age, All Her Love emerges out of a crackling vinyl effect. The quiet storm of He Won’t Hurt You is the point, nine tracks in, where it all snaps into focus. A wandering synthesiser bass, crooning vocals and blissful acoustic guitars abound as he sings a woman into his arms, freeing her from her violent lover.
The overall feel of Where I Wanna Be is that of an ambient, dreamy soul stew. It is little wonder that, with Jones’ obvious sensitivity, it became a soundtrack for seduction. The album barely made the UK Top 50, but its influence was clear on UK artists, most notably Craig David, who anglicised some of Jones’ ideas and briefly became something of a megastar.