Categories: Performing Arts

Smooth soul from James Davis

When she was young, before she acted on TV’s “Moesha” and in films such as “Holiday Heart,” Los Angeles-bred Jess Reynolds remembers an unusual and inspiring game her mother Yolanda would play with her.
“She used to lay me out in the middle of the living-room floor, and she’d put a blanket over my head,” she says. “And she would tell me to let my mind go, and every single thing that I wanted or desired, to receive it, right then and there. She said there was no limit, no boundaries – whatever I wanted, I could have.”

That strong sense of faith is still paying dividends, via James Davis, the oddly-dubbed neo-soul trio Reynolds, 26, formed two years ago with her fraternal-twin and co-vocalist Rey and their keyboardist-producer kid brother Auston. They appear in The City today to promote their self-titled debut EP on Motown.

For years, mom Yolanda had been a successful backup singer for James Ingram, Jeffery Osborne and other stars. She wanted her kids to dream big, but not to fall prey to typical music-biz machinations. “Our mother oversees everything, and I mean everything,” Jess says.

“She’s very cautious about who we let in our circle,” says Auston of the matriarch, who nixed an Interscope record contract Jess was offered at age 9 because she didn’t feel her daughter was ready. “Because our mom’s been through a lot of things – and Jess has been through a lot of things – she’s been able to get a close-up view of the business and watch the way people work.”

With relative ease, she can spot a nefarious weasel coming a mile away, and alert her clan accordingly. Naturally, the family band’s history is a wild one.

In elementary school, the rambunctious Jess was spotted by actress Alfre Woodard, who urged her to start auditioning. She began landing roles, but was unwilling to act without her sister present on set; Yolanda hired a tutor to keep them up to date on schoolwork.

Rey secretly had begun composing songs, and – at Jess’ insistence – started studying with song craftsman Leon Ware. Meanwhile, Auston abandoned dreams of playing professional basketball and was studying sound engineering.

Once Jess gave up acting, Rey lured her into singing harmonies at her concerts, then added Auston’s voice and studio wizardry. Their unusual name comes from the fact that James is the middle name of most Reynolds men, and Davis is Yolanda’s maiden name.

They recorded their plush harmonies as a three-piece in a bedroom until Motown came calling, and mom gave the deal a thumbs-up. “We all agreed,” says Jess. “We just knew it was right.”

IF YOU GO

James Davis

opening for Seinabo Sey

Where: Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St.., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. June 8

Tickets: $21

Contact: (415) 885-0750, www.slimspresents.com

Tom Lanham

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