Greg Dean - The Greg Dean Project (2016)

Greg Dean
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What happens when you bring together some of the most in-demand voices in independent soul music and pair them with one of South Africa’s most exciting song-writing producers? Magic. Pure magic. Greg Dean’s sole producer compilation project showcasing his songwriting and thrilling production abilities is this year’s Brandon Williams’ XII. The talent comprising Dean’s sterling sophomore release is nothing less than awe-inspiring and all bring their A-game, strutting proudly their vocal abilities against jazzy soul backdrops that gives them ample room to play while also quietly allowing Dean’s arrangement skills to demonstrably brag. Right after one tries to catch his or her breath from one skyscraping vocal, here comes another from another powerhouse, from Mykal Kilgore and Jarrod Lawson to Aaron Marcellus and Carol Riddick. Indie superstars Gordon Chambers, Chester Gregory, and Eric Roberson also make appearances that are among the best in their catalogs.

What happens when you bring together some of the most in-demand voices in independent soul music and pair them with one of South Africa’s most exciting song-writing producers? Magic. Pure magic. Greg Dean’s sole producer compilation project showcasing his songwriting and thrilling production abilities is this year’s Brandon Williams’ XII. The talent comprising Dean’s sterling sophomore release is nothing less than awe-inspiring and all bring their A-game, strutting proudly their vocal abilities against jazzy soul backdrops that gives them ample room to play while also quietly allowing Dean’s arrangement skills to demonstrably brag. Right after one tries to catch his or her breath from one skyscraping vocal, here comes another from another powerhouse, from Mykal Kilgore and Jarrod Lawson to Aaron Marcellus and Carol Riddick. Indie superstars Gordon Chambers, Chester Gregory, and Eric Roberson also make appearances that are among the best in their catalogs. Relative newcomers like Chantae Cann, Natalie Weiss, and Amber Iman round up what is an artist’s artist album of the most tastefully rendered of the year thus far.

Best known overseas in the music industry as a songwriter signed to Sony ATV, Greg Dean has a deep catalog of artist collaborations that are largely outside of the U.S. His South African debut album, Collective Conscience, boasted a who’s who of SA acts, including Kabomo, Reason, Nothende, Brian Temba, Clint Brink, among others. The release earned him frequent radio placements and several charters in his home country. So did the 2011 single, “Thinking About You (feat. Mabongi Mabaso),” which climbed to the #2 position on Heart FM’s Top 10 Chart. But, it’s with The Greg Dean Project that Dean is slated for world domination, if there’s any justice in the world.

In the tradition of such songwriting producers as Michael Masser, Michael Powell, and Narada Michael Walden, Dean excels at a balladeer sound that is undeniably urban, grown, silken, and caressing, with instrumentation that gleams in musical prowess and seductive atmospherics. The space Dean’s production affords for voice leaves his singers nowhere to hide -- either they have the goods to deliver or they don’t. Yet, each and every one of these singers brings not just outstanding vocals, but some of the best recorded performances of their careers, as displayed by Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Gordon Chambers on “That Would Be All.”

No one plans to be outdone on this special project. Either everyone realized how special the chic material was they were being given, or Dean had them lined up to hear the others and they refused to be outdone. Rarely on a compilation project are there no weak links, but The Greg Dean Project boasts nary a one. On “Colours,” Jarrod Lawson’s falsetto has never sounded as creamy and natural. With subtle riffs, scats, and self-harmonies, Eric Roberson maintains his crown as the King of Indie Soul on the single, “Grass Ain’t Greener,” one of the project’s rare mid-tempo grooves. Best known to the world as the viral sensation who sped-up George Benson’s “The Greatest Love of All” to a Bobby Short, cabaret stunner, Mykal Kilgore slows everything down here until he milks every Broadway bound tear out of “Denial.” An elastic, practically cooing Aaron Marcellus rides a horntastic and percussive rhythm that sparkles on “Sacrificed Queen,” a composition that gives Marcellus his own career zenith.

With cherubic aerial work, Chantae Cann matches a rolling piano and sinewy strings as rambling as the metro rails they mirror on “New York 6 Train,” and shows out again on her “Unconditional Love” duet with Lawson. On a sultry indigo arrangement that would have been at home on the projects of Phyllis Hyman and Angela Bofill, Carol Riddick flows like a saxophone over floating, fluttering harmonies. The Greg Dean Project is exactly what folks mean when they say “grown folks music,” and the disc specializes in the kind of soulful sophistication folks claim to miss.

The timeless, well-produced, written, and performed project bursting with classic vocal showcases on memorable melodies is here. Now it just needs you to support it and tell your friends about it. This is the mature urban soul folks have been waiting for. What are you still waiting for? Get to it! Highly Recommended.

By L. Michael Gipson

 
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