St. Louis native and current Nashville resident Antonio Neal has established himself as an A-list songwriter throughout the Gospel world over the past eight years, but his long overdue time up front has finally arrived.
Born as one of seven kids in a working class family, Neal sang at church but didn't see music as a future calling. In fact, music (which in his family meant church music) wasn't high on his list of interests until his older brother introduced him to the contemporary Gospel sounds of acts like the Winans. Basketball was his first love, and the 6' 4" teenager received a basketball scholarship to Texas A&M University. He married his longtime girlfriend Sharralisa after his first year and planned on a career as a pro 'baller. Unfortunately, severe knee and ankle injuries dashed those hopes and forced Neal to face a different future than he had planned.
Over the next several years, Neal turned to his emerging love for music and worked hard to develop his skills as a singer and songwriter. He released two independent CDs but gathered more notoriety as an emerging songwriting talent. Writing for acts such as Stacie Orrice, Darlene McCoy and Avalon's Jody McBrayer, Neal became a sought-after partner for Gospel and CCM stars. The highpoint was his first composition to receive major crossover play, a contribution to the soundtrack of Diary of a Mad Black Woman called"Fallen in Love."
Finally, after years in the background, in 2005 Neal signed with EMI Gospel and in August released his major label debut, Days of My Life. While his prior work supporting other artists proved that Antonio Neal is a talented songwriter, Days of My Life shows him to be considerably more. I'll admit that this is one of those albums that snuck up on me, getting better with each listening. So while the acoustic soul ballads "Jesus Will" and the beautiful "The Only One" immediately struck a chord, it was only after a few listenings that I fully appreciated the great uptempo modern R&B numbers "So Good," "You Don't Know" and the Tony Rich-like "Talkin Bout Love." Combine these cuts with the nice midtempo title track and the album's dramatic closer "All" and you have one of the year's best Gospel albums. EMI Gospel created quite a stir when it signed Neal and now I understand why. He's the real deal and one of the most exciting new Gospel artists I've heard in awhile. Highly recommended.
by Chris Rizik