Promoted with three singles that, spread across an uncommonly long period, were her biggest Billboard Adult R&B hits, Fall for You quietly became one of Leela James' most successful albums. The upswing continues with the grit-and-grace singer's sixth full-length. Just prior to the release of Did It for Love, "Don't Want You Back" had already surpassed "Set Me Free" as James' highest placement on the Adult R&B chart, which is determined by airplay. An elegant and forthright composite of late-'70s Rufus & Chaka Khan and Earth, Wind & Fire with a little contemporary rhythmic sweetening, "Don't Want You Back" does sound best when heard on the radio, in a car with the windows down. That might be especially true for a driver or passenger on the rebound; "He's doin' what he's supposed to do, ooh, it could've been you" is an ego-deflating line executed to smooth perfection. It's one of the album's nine songs James wrote with Rex Rideout, an all-purpose studio and A&R veteran whose work has supported dozens including Will Downing, Ledisi, and BJ the Chicago Kid. The two, joined by several additional associates, are well-matched, evidently capable of covering a lot of emotional range and tying it all together. Dismissal, wistfulness, and contentment (including the fine Dave Hollister duet "Good to Love You") are among the many romantic conditions they soundtrack here, and they manage to do it with a perspective that is steeped in soul tradition but fresh for 2017. The two songs made without Rideout -- the lightly stomping "There 4 U" and dustier, hard-hitting title track, the finale -- are up to the same high standard. Fans of James' earlier output might balk at perceived impurities, like snaking/rattling trap-style drums that undergird some of the tracks, but they're secondary, utilized with finesse, like a natural evolution of what the likes of Kashif and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis did with machines during the early '80s. The song shines through each time.
Review by Andy Kellman