The High Road, by JoJo
This album was the second album by R&B singer JoJo, and the album hers that I feel the most hyped about going into it because I absolutely loved the two singles from this album, “Too Little Too Late” and its less-famous but still amazing follow-up “How To Touch A Girl.” Upon listening to this album I found that in many ways there is a general pattern to her songs that has remained consistent over her entire career, which has lasted almost twenty years but which has only included four studio albums, one of which was released earlier this year as I write this (2020) and the other two of which were at the beginning of her career. There is a certain consistency that one gets with JoJo’s music, and that is soulful singing, songs that are mostly about love and relationships and their ups and downs that present JoJo as having been hurt by bad relationships and longing for intimacy but at the same time hesitant about trusting the man or men in her life. This appears to be a lasting problem because the same problems that JoJo was singing about as a very young woman in 2003 and 2006 in her first two albums are the same problems she returns to over and over again in 2020.
This album is twelve tracks long and about 46 minutes in length if you got the version I did, which is the standard version without any bonus tracks. As might be expected for a young singer, most of these tracks are produced and written by others. Scott Storch helps write and produce on album opener “This Time” and it’s as grating as one would expect for the sort of production that would be on a b-level Destiny’s Child song. That said, a few of the songs here are amazing. “Too Little, Too Late” and the JoJo co-write “How To Touch A Girl” are still amazing after all this time. “Anything” features an inspired sample from Toto’s “Africa” that works really well here. “Let It Rain” and “Gold Ol” are wonderful pieces that express JoJo’s desire for intimacy in a relationship in a convincing way. “Note To God” offers up a prayer to God for His help in our society dealing with its hatred and divisions with a great deal of sincerity, written by Diane Warren, who also writes “Exceptional,” a lovely slower number. Overall this album has a balance of somewhat jarring upbeat songs and more lush and gorgeous slower ballads, both of which highlight JoJo’s singing abilities well.
Overall, this album made me feel somewhat sad for several reasons. For one, it demonstrates that JoJo’s approach to music hasn’t changed much over the course of almost two decades in the music industry–sing soulful songs about the uncertainties of love and relationships to production that is clearly of its time and hope that the result catches on with the general public. JoJo’s singing throughout here is excellent, but the mid-2000’s production is highly dated on some of the songs and quite jarring on at least some of the numbers like “This Time” and “Like That.” In fact, it is a bit sad that JoJo’s range in material has actually shrunk since this album, since the end of the album is a moving “Note To God” that could be sung about the problems we have had this year and is a plea for understanding and compassion and harmony, all things that are in dire short supply at present. This is an album that, with updated production, could still be played today, and there is a melancholy edge to some of the material as well, especially as the album closes, that reflects a certain melancholy about JoJo’s career, and about the world in which her music exists in even now.