Bradd Marquis - Thank You

Bradd Marquis
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His rich, elastic baritone could be the second coming of Johnny Gill. His good guy image is that of a more street wizened Sam Cooke. His on-stage swag is not entirely unlike the tomboy, pimp strut of Mary J. Blige. For two full-length independent albums, two mixtapes, and a few high exposure national tours preceding this fifth indie release from Marquis, we’ve been waiting for the promise hinted at in both his live shows and 2007 regional radio smash, “Radio,” to finally be fulfilled. After years of singing melancholy mid-tempos and ballads that showcased his ample voice but little else, with the decidedly upbeat and melodically compelling R&B project, Thank You, Bradd Marquis has finally arrived. 

His rich, elastic baritone could be the second coming of Johnny Gill. His good guy image is that of a more street wizened Sam Cooke. His on-stage swag is not entirely unlike the tomboy, pimp strut of Mary J. Blige. For two full-length independent albums, two mixtapes, and a few high exposure national tours preceding this fifth indie release from Marquis, we’ve been waiting for the promise hinted at in both his live shows and 2007 regional radio smash, “Radio,” to finally be fulfilled. After years of singing melancholy mid-tempos and ballads that showcased his ample voice but little else, with the decidedly upbeat and melodically compelling R&B project, Thank You, Bradd Marquis has finally arrived. 

Always transparent in his storytelling lyrics, music has served as a living memoir for the New York talent and double Showtime at the Apollo performer. Marquis debut album, Finding My Way, was a break-up catharsis project following the end of his marital engagement. His last album, 2011’s darker Authentic, revealed a man struggling with himself, his past and destiny. A descendant from a musical family with ties to greats like Phyllis Hyman, the Allen Sisters (Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad), and the East Coast family gospel troupe, Family & Friends, the church boy turned secular lover man had learned how to sing his pain from some of the best. Marquis always had the sophisticated Southern soul voice and the testimonial stories, even minor national success that included appearances on BET’s 106th and Park and Apollo Live. With matinee idol looks and an NBA player’s height, Marquis should have been a lock for national stardom. The issue was the songs. With few notable exceptions, the hooks and melodies were not catchy enough to elevate Marquis beyond respected hometown hero with a modest overseas following.

During a hiatus following the independent success of Authentic, Marquis went back to basics, studied his songwriting craft, returned to a deeper faith life, put some past hauntings to rest and re-teamed with Angelo Ray, an A-list producer who once was affiliated with the Babyface production team back when Marquis was on their radar. A lot happened in the two years between Authentic and Thank You, but the biggest transformation may be in Marquis himself. His art certainly benefited from the change and the results are nothing short of a creative—and hopefully commercial—breakthrough for the artist. Bursting with urban dance and mid-tempo grooves that are as enticing in melody as they are in verve, Marquis finally delivers an album of radio-ready jams where nearly every cut is readily available for a fan’s sing along.

Lighter in spirit, Marquis is also lighter and more exploratory in the studio, taking more risks with the different shades of his voice on tracks that are decidedly more street. On ditties like the Curtis Mayfield funk of “Lucky Ones” he takes the key up a notch higher than his usual and stays there. Meanwhile, he rocks out on the driving pop of “Bounce Back (featuring Phase One).” He even goes techno-lite for the synthy club banger, “One Night,” sing talking in key with an enviable smoothness. Showing his diction and breathing prowess on the syllable heavy, bass banger, “Sleeping With Yourself,” Marquis writes verses that come close to rapping while still managing to keep it silky on the mike. Throughout, Marquis’s voice finds new spaces to travel in with a discipline and technique that services each well-considered song.

With half the songs written and recorded in ten days, the Angelo and Marquis collaboration should feel rushed and incomplete. To the contrary, each song is blessed with compelling choruses and inspired themes that are right on time for summer. All the while, each cut cohesively belongs on the same project. It’s an impressive feat that speaks to the time Marquis devoted to his song craft studies.

The project single, “Winner,” is an optimistic come-on to a resistant woman with a classic urban AC hook and unexpected moments of spiritual messaging to the lady of Marquis’s desire. “Winner” has plenty of competition with relationship songs that wouldn’t be out of place on the smooth soul catalogs of several ‘90s R&B quartets; only here Marquis ably sings every part. Vocally showing out on the urban AC soul of “B4 I Knew You,” Marquis offers a cut whose dual message could be spiritual or secular, reflective of the artist’s current faithwalk. As strong as Marquis’s baritone is on “B4 I Knew You,” is how incredible the melody is on one of the best written romance cuts of Marquis’s career, the unabashedly honest “Love Will Find A Way.” On the mature lyrics, Marquis reaches his creative goal of singing and writing about a grown-up relationship that needs grown folks encouragement and consideration. Questioning whether the relationship has what is needed to survive, in multi-award winning singer/songwriter Tess Henley, Marquis finds a worthy vocal companion to trade gritty voiced riffs with on a classic love gone wrong blues.  

On an album dedicated to thanking fans and family for sticking it out with him to this moment of satisfying fulfillment, Bradd Marquis opens with the title song he and Ray first wrote for the namesake album. While the verses are to the woman in his life, the chorus takes on the kind of spiritual double entendre that is peppered throughout Thank You: “You’re the reason why I live today/And all I want to do is say/You came and changed my ways/That’s why I say/Thank you. It’s a grace fans should extend right back to the man who fought through his challenges to finally deliver the greatness that stakeholders knew was there all the time. Highly Recommended.

By L. Michael Gipson

 
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