Isaac Hayes. Maxwell. Sam & Dave. Musiq Soulchild. Sly Stone. Raheem DeVaughn. Marvin Gaye. DeAngelo. Teddy Pendergrass. In case you missed it, that was a partial roll-call of some of the most iconic 'soul men' from yesterday and today.
And now in breaking news.... you may not know this one yet, but the name Sol Blackman will someday be officially added to this elite list.
A recent Friday night found this singer-songwriter (who seems to effortlessly and skillfully blend the very best of the old and new) playing to a standing-room-only crowd in the Cambridge Room of the House of Blues. As I wandered about in the crowd, I found only a few people who were already familiar with this relative newcomer's work. Likely that's because there was so little room for moving about in the first place, and the fans he had previously amassed were likely seated near the stage. But I also found, as evidenced by the shrieks and squeals as he took to the stage, a few hundred as-yet- un-initiated folk were anxiously expecting great things.
By the end of the night it seemed that no one, least of all me, was disappointed. This young brother brought the proverbial "whole package." He had been described to me as having a sort of Lyfe Jennings meets DeAngelo flavor. Vocally, he was that and better.
Obviously, every artist wants to establish his or her own identity and style, but as Blackman's piquant tenor segued to savory falsetto and back , he often reminded this writer of Raheem DeVaughn mixing it up with Al Green. Is your mouth watering yet?
He was backed by a sizzling band, complete with booming bass, blazing horns, keyboards, drums and all. The guitarist - who looked to be all of 21, was throwing down some Jimi Hendrix-type riffs, and when looking at the ensemble, each band member all fresh in his dark trousers with shirt and tie, you might have flashed back to one of those 1969 Stax or Motown traveling revues (well, I was pretty little back then but I've seen the grainy footage on PBS). Add a handful of gorgeous background singers in their little black dresses (can I say how thrilled I was to NOT see video ho's in G-strings?) and then congratulate these folks on being not only musically astute, but also creative, clever , cool and just plain classy.
Derek Turner, age 27, was familiar with Sol (pronounced soul) Blackman's work prior to this show. "I've known him for about 4 or 5 years," he recalled. The two met in college and performed at some of the same step shows and other campus events. "His style reminds me of D'Angelo...he is going to have a huge career," Turner predicted.
Sol Blackman spoke excitedly about his upcoming CD, and is understandably proud of all his hard work. "I wrote every song. And co-produced them as well," he explained. As to why he worked exclusively on this project for more than 18 months, he revealed that he was going "for a classic sound." I would say he nailed that one.
He said the CD will be out soon, but as of yet has not nailed down a date. "We are fielding a number of ... opportunities," he smiled.
In addition to the music, which could very well stand on its own, 29-year-old Adrienne Young noticed something else: swagger and basal sex appeal. "It seemed to be a real crowd-pleaser when he took off his suit jacket," she said. True, these songs would have sounded just as hot even if Blackman had been clad in blue jeans and a basketball jersey. But live music, for many of us, is a special treat. Good looking brother comes out in a suit and tie and serves up some hot -buttered -soul and smoldering ballads just makes it all a bit more special, somehow. Or as ZZ Top sang it best, "every girl's crazy 'bout a sharp-dressed man."
The performance consisted of several cuts from Sol Blackman's upcoming debut CD, including Whiskey, I Want U, $32, Get U, and my personal favorites, I Don't Want Nobody Else and We've Got Love. There was also a cover of the Prince and the Revolution classic Purple Rain, which would probably please even the Androgynous One himself.
From where I sat (or actually, from where I teetered on my 5-inch stilettos; the low point of the evening for me was that when I got there, anything that resembled seating was now a hazy memory) this guy has it all. His 'people' i.e., management, PR, etc. apparently didn't know their own strength in that they were genuinely surprised at the massive turnout they were able to generate for an artist who, although not exactly unknown, is not quite a household name, either. Give him a few months...