Daley - Those Who Wait

Daley
Daley Those Who Wait.jpg
Click on CD cover
to listen or purchase

It is the best debut of the year. A strong declaration, but it doesn’t make it any less true. The twenty-two year old wunderkind from Manchester, England has been in a state of refining and polishing his flawless and varied instrument for the last couple of years, seemingly appearing out of nowhere when he burst out with a featured turn on the Gorillaz hit, “Doncamatic.” From writing and practicing in his bedroom to become one of the BBC’s Voices of 2011 in less than three years is quite the quick rise, but it is a wholly deserved one. While his debut has a pulled punch or two, the bright spots throughout his debut “mixtape” so clearly announce a talent on par with the debuts of a Terrence Trent D’arby, Simply Red, or even Robbie Williams, that his potential is both dizzying and inspiring, making further encouragement and support the only sane answer for fans interested in the continued evolution of fresh talent in soul.

It is the best debut of the year. A strong declaration, but it doesn’t make it any less true. The twenty-two year old wunderkind from Manchester, England has been in a state of refining and polishing his flawless and varied instrument for the last couple of years, seemingly appearing out of nowhere when he burst out with a featured turn on the Gorillaz hit, “Doncamatic.” From writing and practicing in his bedroom to become one of the BBC’s Voices of 2011 in less than three years is quite the quick rise, but it is a wholly deserved one. While his debut has a pulled punch or two, the bright spots throughout his debut “mixtape” so clearly announce a talent on par with the debuts of a Terrence Trent D’arby, Simply Red, or even Robbie Williams, that his potential is both dizzying and inspiring, making further encouragement and support the only sane answer for fans interested in the continued evolution of fresh talent in soul.

Big-haired, square-glassed, and lithe to the point that one must resist the urge to offer sandwiches, Daley fully fits the modern trend of quirky, talented nerds hogging the spotlight. His tenor is often compared to one of his core influences, Maxwell. His false and aural backgrounds do favor the Maxwell of “Submerge: ‘Til We Become The Sun” and “Whenever, Wherever, Whatever,” but to call Daley a clone is technically incorrect and does a disservice to the variances one hears in his voice and a singularity in tone that is uniquely his. While Daley has mastered the melisma and jazz riffs and runs—the traditional techniques of soul music - to put it bluntly: Daley isn’t trying to sound “Black” and yet is never less than soulful. Like Karen Carpenter, George Michael and Lewis Taylor before him, Daley’s soul is naturally his without the occasional rough hewn timbre that reads “Black” in the school of Michael Bolton and Michael McDonald or an abundance of raspy resonance that are the hallmarks of James Morrison or newcomer Allen Stone. There are no racial mimicry affectations here that are even sometimes quietly charged of accepted blue-eyed soul artists like Alice Russell, Jon B. or Joss Stone. As much as listening to the recently departed Amy Winehouse is a joy, ardent soul enthusiast couldn’t help but shout out “name that influence” with every turned Billie Holiday phrase and Lauryn Hill riff heard on Back to Black. Daley, on the other hand, is now just Daley.

While on Those Who Wait Daley proves the range of his palette by not approaching every song the same way, ala Adele, or more obviously mining black artists, it wasn’t always so. On a recent tribute to Winehouse (“Love Is Losing Game”) and on his cult faves, “Be,” Daley is more an ardent student of jazz pioneer Jimmy Scott than Maxwell. On both of these oft-shared YouTube clips, Daley would inexplicably break into pitch perfect androgynous cries to the heavens followed by feathery note brushes of delicate phrasing with an assuredness and control of a singer twice his age. Both beautifully rendered beyond measure and impressively pulled off, but derivative of Scott and Maxwell, inviting needless comparison.

Those Who Wait restrains itself from these Jimmy Scott moments, though there is plenty of belting surprises, particularly on a stripped bare, acoustic version of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” that should cause the blonde originator to refrain from ever singing her #1 pop hit ever again in life, so forever five-fingered is it as a new Daley staple. Though “Pretty Wings” is given a very capable treatment in Daley’s hands, Maxwell still comfortably owns his latest trademark cut. As nicely as Daley does on the covers, it s on a set of back to back originals that Daley really reveals why he’s an artist to watch out for.

“Let It Go,” “Game Over,” “Lost Love (Interlude)” and “Alone Together” follow one another, each vying for top position as the most exciting moment to hear from an artist one is meeting for the first time. A relationship lament, “Let It Go” is the most intricate and delivers the most jaw-dropping surprises. It opens with electric guitar chords that evoke the movement and mood of Blade Runner or Risky Business before yielding to a whooshing wind effect matched by a swooping vocal from Daley before exploding into a chorus of drum and bass, electronic effects and some decidedly modern doo wop vocals, filling every crevice of space with layers of subtle instrumentation and bold vocals. The song’s 30-second bridge of an overdubbed Daley working out several airy, complex harmonies running counterpoint to his leads is a stunner, showing-off through skill and technique instead of over-singing. For its part, “Game Over” literally tinkles with bright shimmers, plucky organ keys, and an almost childlike cotton candy sweetness. The song would feel out of place on such a dark album if not for its hints of caution couched within the song’s loving overtures of “game over” to the usual gaming that takes place in contemporary  relationships. The other side of those failed declarations, “Love Lost (Interlude),” illustrates Daley’s lyrical and harmonic brilliance again on a more forthrightly expressed a cappella sliver of an interlude that will leave you salivating to hear a fuller expression of these musical ideas. “Game Over” or “Alone Together” may pull at the heartstrings, but “Let It Go” and “Love Lost (Interlude)” are the creative showstoppers.

Speaking of “Alone Together,” Marsha Ambrosius is at long last given a vocal match. On the quiet storm ballad, “Alone Together,” Daley and Ambrosius are nearly indistinguishable from one another, so beautifully do they blend. Lyrically, its romance challenges Frank McComb’s “Left Alone” by arguing that it would be better to be alone together than alone at all, though there is more love evident in this couple’s metaphor-laced proclamations to one another. Again, as with “Game Over,” what is overtly a love dedication is laden with hushed concerns (alone, together?) just beneath its eager romanticism.

A quartet of sensitively written, unevenly handled songs set the midnight overcast of the album, in much the way Nelson Riddle’s arrangement and production of Frank Sinatra did on In The Wee Small Hours and Only The Lonely, only this time with largely electronic instrumentation. The title track opens with a strong vocal and testimonial lyrics espousing the benefits of taking one’s time, akin to Rashaan Patterson’s “Don’t Run So Fast,” but is eventually undone by repetitive and production understated to the point of underdevelopment. The minimalist piano ballad “Spent” fares considerably better, a lonesome whisper of a song that progresses into a double, harmonized lead, the song digs rather than expands. Daley’s natural tenor tenderly serves a melancholic lyric of financial and emotional investment lost at the end of an exploitive love (You broke the bank/I’m broken hearted too/the time to say you’re sorry came and went/You said you’ll pay me back plus the rent/But, I think you’re spent).

“Spent” may boast Daley’s strongest writing, the kind of raw, poetic lyricism we’ve come to expect from Sting or George Michael—spare, unfussy, but devastating in its emotional impact. Not all sourpuss, Harry Love’s hooky remix of Daley’s turn on the Gorillaz’s “Doncamatic” is as bouncy as it is haunting, capturing just enough synth, strings, bass and electronic accordion to make it a very current clubbanger without trying. By comparison, “Smoking Gun” proves the only glaringly obvious song on the entire set; a yawningly routine synth anthem so clearly aiming for radio that it reads inauthentic in a book of songs that are anything but. It’s a moment where Daley blinked and allowed commercialism to trump his artistic voice. Hopefully, compromises like these are few in the wake of major label pressure on his 2012 A&M debut. There are at least four or five songs in the singer/songwriter’s catalog that were not included on this free promo mixtape, including “Be,” “Rainy Day” and “Benz (feat. Estelle and David Banner)." Hopefully, they will find a home there, giving them a well-deserved audience. Equally deserving is an original, but tradition-aware songsmith worthy of a devoted audience for decades to come. Highly recommended.

(Readers can cop a free copy of Those Who Wait at www.daley.tv)

By L. Michael Gipson

 

Leave a comment!