There’s a relaxed, tangible vibe rolling through each second of RĀI’s single “Back to Life” obviously informed by a lifetime of listening and learning lessons from some of the best soul and R&B of the last fifty years. He brings his own personality to these recognizable musical textures and structures, however, and the positive message he aspires to include at the heart of all of his performances is quite present in this song as well. There are no obvious influences in his music; instead, this is a musical artist who has clearly worked hard to subsume all of the qualities he loves most in the style into his own approach and comes across as an artist who has the assurance and skill to make a long career for himself ahead. “Back to Life” is ample evidence of his talent and doesn’t have a single moment of filler in its three minutes forty five seconds.
It’s nearly four minutes of unadulterated groove bliss. The song locks into that groove early on, but his songwriting instincts wisely mix it up with seamless transitions where the music seems to grow more meditative before resuming the groove once again. There’s certainly a great deal of introspection with this song and the musical performance mimics that without ever attempting to dominate the mood. The inviting, non-assertive percussion providing the song with its pulse and lightly applied synthesizer sounds weave together and, despite their inherently electronic nature, never sound cold and unfeeling. Instead, there’s a definite lushness surrounding the arrangement that many listeners will latch onto and enjoy alongside his vocal. There’s strong dynamics powering this song, but they are never overstated and glide with the same finesse we hear from RĀI’s voice. It’s warm, convivial, and seemingly effortless.
His vocal sounds like he entered the studio with a largely finished product and knew exactly what to do to provide a crowning touch for the song. His voice enters the performance early and fills it with a cool, collected point of view that traces the progress of redemption without ever lapsing into some hackneyed expression of heartbreak we’d hear from lesser talents. The words for “Back to Life” give him amply good material to work with – his voice dips and sways over the arrangement, working in concert with the accompanying instruments throughout the song’s length, and embodies the same melodic virtues and pensive mood we hear from the music. The phrasing has great patience and focus that pays off with singing more than capable of elevating an already fine lyric. RĀI’s “Back to Life” is an impressive single to begin 2018 with for this talented singer/songwriter, bears repeated listening, and clearly indicates we’ll be hearing even greater things to come from this prodigiously talented force. We seldom get such convincingly personal, yet masterful, R&B and soul anymore like we hear with this song.