Somewhere between the haunting, refined melodies of D’Angelo and the incredibly poignant retro-soul storytelling of Raphael Saadiq lies the neo-soul charms of Anthony David, whose latest album As Above, So Below (his fourth release) finds the Atlanta native addressing and musing on universally relevant themes that includes but are not limited to intimate relationships, desire, and aspirations.
Though equal parts soulful, morally uplifting, and thought-provoking, much like the man himself, for some the music might teeter too close to the precipice where preachiness melds with self-righteousness (“God Said” is a telling example), but the majority of the songs here are so emotionally appealing that more often than not as the listener you can think of nothing but losing yourself in the tender caress of the melodies and the warmth of David’s raspy tenor, adrift in time and experience.
They don’t call him the male version of India.Arie for nothing. And, as such, a good number of the 12 tracks wouldn’t be out of place on a record from Arie, or other famously talented colleagues like Raheem DeVaughn or Musiq Soulchild for that matter.
Like most winning contemporary R&B-soul releases, As Above, So Below brims with a mix of thoughtful tracks and groovy highlights, kicking things off with the serene, beautifully penned title track. “Let Me In” ranks higher though, in the scope of its yearning and sympathy, as a petition to a prospective lover to open her heart to love again. It’s essentially a paean to the patience, pleasure and pain attendant to the pursuit of happiness in fresh relationships. “How long you gon’ keep me knocking at your door,” he asks of the young woman, conceding that she’s “a tough egg to crack.”
The mood on the album is predominantly a placid mid-tempo vibe, with cuts like the hypnotic collaboration “Forever More” (with guest verses from Algebra and rapper Phonte) immediately earning attention. Shawn Stockman (of 90s R&B supergroup Boyz II Men), David’s cousin, contributes vocals on the optimistic “Rule the World.”
If anything, David’s praiseworthy vocals and notable songwriting only serve to reiterate my long-held view that the industry’s true artistes are the ones who’ve been toiling in the underground trenches for years – and are now, thankfully, getting gradual tastes of the mainstream success that had eluded them for far too long.
BEST TRACKS: “Backstreet”, “Forever More” and “Let Me In”