RJD2 swaps his almost alien sample-hunting ear for a full-band sound on The Third Hand, a departure that proves costly for the producer/DJ/songwriter. Aside from the masterful patchwork that makes up his magnificent Deadringer LP, RJD2's digging and programming expertise (as evidenced by an impeccable serving of soul 45s on the pre-Deadringer mix tape Your Face or Your Kneecaps) has blossomed over the years into solid production credits for Soul Position, Diverse and Aceyalone, to name a few. On RJ's second solo album, Since We Last Spoke, the Philadelphia-based Ohio native who's gained stellar live performance status for his four-turntable manipulation contributed strong vocals to a couple of occasionally moving experiments that featured synths and live drums. The Third Hand rarely has the muscle to throw you from a moving car the way that 'Exotic Talkâ?� did on Since three years ago. In fact, surprisingly, it sometimes sputters along like a mail truck.
The Third Hand blends RJD2's guitar playing and beat-making with live piano and synth melodies and his vocals, which appear on nearly every track. Aside from a few lovely self-recorded-in-the-basement moments, The Third Hand is weighed down by difficult, challenging melodies that are challenging for RJ to sing over. On 'You Never Had It So Good,â?� RJD2's pipes land him in the distant vicinity of California pop songwriter Emmitt Rhodes; RJ isn't the singer that Rhodes was on his solo early-'70s debut, but 'Youâ?� is one of The Third Hand's better cuts due to its mash of humorous lyrics and proggy organ blasts. Adversely, RJ's lukewarm stab at a near-falsetto (a primary Third Hand problem) disarms the staccato church organs and reverb-laden psychedelia of the Bee Gees' 1st'inspired 'Laws of the Gods.â?� The 'Get Itâ?� instrumental sweeps up this mess, with vocal snippets and electric piano that recalls an earlier hypnotic RJD2 work called 'Rain.â?� Balancing out ill-chosen moments in 'Laws of the Godsâ?� and the tame '80s-radio synth-pop of 'Just When,â?� RJD2 delivers touching folk in the bare acoustic ditty 'Someday,â?� where he offers confident, intimate promises to his counterpart ('You're my ticket to the sunâ?�). Arguments for subsequent listens of RJD2's The Third Hand are in these sporadically well-delivered lyrics and his still-audible beat-making wizardry, but overreaching his vocal range and retreating into unmemorable melodies cause his third effort to lag far behind the sprint of his first two solo records.