I’m not keen on the term neo soul, it infers ‘ not quite’ or ‘ quasi’ and in any tagged music strand you have your genuine articles and your chancers. Many years ago a guy called d’Angelo made a mostly impressive easy rolling Wonder-tinged record that whet my appetite only to release a follow up called Voodoo something that had no melodies whatsoever and every note filtered through a haze of grass. Maxwell however kept his style away from the mainstream and fashionable and rarely cuts a dud ; in fact his ‘Embrya’ set is the ultimate dreamy bedroom soundtrack.
David Anthony tips his hat and headstock to Bill Withers. Anyone who gets the subtlety and pure soul and musicality of the former airline toilet fitter is going to be of interest to this site. Sure enough, David’s compositional and chordal style echoes Withers, Hathaway, even Lightnin’ Hopkins at times and the stories he is telling take these flavours bang into the 21st century. From the odd guest here and there on this outing, he knows many figures from the Atlanta music scene and beyond eg singer Algebra and rapper Ponte and also includes his cousin, Shawn Stockman from the Boys II Men aggregation. How annoying is it that those cats have never dug deep and made an album in the style of the Temps ‘Cloud Nine’ though ! They surely have it in them, but producers play safe or they’re working in the wrong decade…..
Anthony writes in a boundary-free spirit, you could imagine him playing with Robert Randolph or Joss Stone, indeed he has worked with India Arie ( on ‘Acoustic Soul’).
So what’s on this collection ? It’s his own gear save for a visit to ‘Rule the World’ with Stockman and that sounds fresh as a daisy. Opener ‘As Above So Below’ has the dreamiest of intro’s and a treated acoustic guitar tone that echoes the late Michael Hedges on ‘Aerial Boundaries’. The vocal is assured but calm and it is this warm legato serenity that is one of David’s trademarks. No bunch of gaudy rings shaken in your face from this bloke. Neither does he repeatedly twist every note of the melody in all directions, the biggest mistake/crime made by most ’soul’ singers who try too hard, witness the over-eager American Idol contestants taking nice tunes through more keys than a jailer’s belt.
‘Let Me In’ is a toetapping soul outing with synth swells that would have sounded better on a Rhodes to be honest, but then again a corker of a soft vocal arrangement.
‘4Evermore’ has a rap thread and a rich vocal blend. The dry rasp of David’s voice probably sounds best on this number, coasting over the other colours and Algebra’s verses are beautifully handled. Maybe one for the En Vogue afficianados….
A look at the history of Haiiti informs ‘What God Said’, believe it or not. Martial drumming grounds this spiritual essay. Affecting, even to this atheist. The confessional ‘Girlfriend’ is a more streetwise piece but the annoying synth line doesn’t help it – this stuff is what Hammonds are for ! But a great insinuating vocal performance nonetheless. ‘Getaround’ is an open yer heart song taken at a Ray Charles pace, but is he speaking for himself or adopting a character ? It’s a bit ambivalent.
Closer ‘Backstreet’ is a clipped acoustic ghetto tale well worth a listen. If I say that I reckon Bobby Womack would surely approve it’s also my take on where this chap is heading careerwise if he keeps a grip on his style and direction
Pete Sargeant www.fairhearing.co.uk