Don-E spent the first ten years of his life without a television in the house. The childhood absence of sitcoms and cartoons freed him to coop-up with the time-tested soul music of artists like Aretha Franklin, Sly Stone and Marvin Gaye-all waiting for discovery in his parent's collection. On Don-E's fifth birthday, his father gave him more of the gift that keeps on giving, a guitar. Don-E's first guitar, one of several musical instruments Don-E mastered, turned out to be the prophetic beginning of a fairly prosperous, if varied, career.
Since those early music years, Don-E has concentrated on becoming a multi-faceted â€˜new classic soul' stylist. While honing his instrumental skills, as an adolescent Don-E also perfected his engineering abilities with a four-track recorder. Mastering this production tool proved the vital ingredient in Don-E's entrance into the music industry - the first step toward Don-E developing an immense reputation as a producer and remixer for other vocalists.
Once he got his foot in the proverbial door in 1992, Don-E had perfected his skills on keys, bass, drums and guitar and captured the hearts of an international audience with his debut solo CD, Unbreakable. After a disappointing second CD, 1995's Changing Seasons, Don-E regrouped a decade later with a vengeance, dropping the soulful Try This in 2005 through the highly reputable U.K. soul label, Dome Records. Along with Try This and his latest Dome project, Natural, solidifies his retro soul side. The steps that led to this satisfying release almost appear ordered by design.
From his stereo, the musical world was at Don-E's beck and call in his birthplace of Brixton, England. Besides the classic soul of his parents' record collection, Don-E also listened to U.S. funk brothers Parliament and Earth Wind & Fire and the reggae, garage, and drum n' bass genres that defined the diverse U.K. music culture. Certainly, the U.K. in the 80s and 90s had an extremely healthy urban music scene for Don-E to study and learn from, a scene that included Mica Paris, Don-E's cousin Beverley Knight, and the founder of â€˜nu classic soul,' Omar. Don-E was especially enamored with Quincy Jones' ambitious works from Qwest Records era throughout the eighties and Jones' producer, the London-born producer/songwriter, Rod Temperton. Temperton's "Always & Forever," a major hit for U.S. band Heatwave, set a precedent for the U.K. classic soul scene and proved an influence on Don-E's musical style.
Soul artists weren't Don-E's only influences. Other 80s artists such as Junior, Loose Ends and Soul II Soul, artists adding a soul-infused dance layer to the U.K. & U.S. pop and urban charts also informed Don-E's sound. Don-E continued their soul-dance trend into the early nineties with his first commercial successes on Island Records: the title track from Unbreakable and "Love Makes The World Go Round," a Top 20 international hit.
Unfortunately a sound that was hot in 1992 had run out of steam by 1995. With the advent of neo-soul and artists like D'Angelo ushering the return of a more classic soul sound, Don-E's follow-up to Unbreakable, Changing Seasons, was a casualty of changing tastes.
For the next decade, Don-E was gainfully employed behind the studio glass and at the microphone. As a featured vocalist, he teamed with U.K.'s underground talent in several dance genres, including the house music producer/musicians Druw & Perez and the drum â€˜n bass guru, DJ Suv. On the mainstream music side, Don-E sang background with rock superstar Sinead O'Connor and wrote and produced for the pop divas, the Sugababes. Though it appears that Don-E enjoyed escaping the urban music box from time to time, he still took time out to work and tour with fellow soul veterans Omar, Grace Jones, Beverley Knight and Rahsaan Patterson.
Don-E eventually returned to the solo recording spotlight in 2005. That year, he signed with Dome Records, a U.K. label that prides itself on "keepin' it soulful." With a line-up that boasts Avani and Incognito and licensing deals with US artists like Rashaan Patterson and the jazz and soul pianist, George Duke, Dome was an ideal launchpad for Don-E's comeback as a soul artist.
His Dome debut,Try This, was a soul tour de force packed with several explorations in musical fusion; including the rock-pop song "How I Feel") and the hip-hop meets classical "Lonely." A funky falsetto exchange with Omar on "No Reason" nicely rounded out a very satisfying set. Echoing its predecessor, Natural offers even creamier, soulful tracks than Try This.
Throughout his latest release, Don-E once again exercises his musical penchant for fusion by tossing in sweet morsels of acid jazz, deep house beats and playful hip-hop. There are several earmarks on Natural. "Addictive Luv" is an irresistible dance jam. "Get Off" delightfully trashes TV reality talent shows. Current Sugababe member Keisha Buchanan adds a bittersweet touch on the duet "Writing's On The Wall." D'Angelo stops by on the Fender Rhodes for "So Cold" to add his trademark thick as molasses chords, while former Jamiroquai band mate, Stewart Zander, easily anchors a tight rhythm section. A welcome, but nearly lost addition to Natural, "So Cold" was actually recorded in 1999 for a short-lived side project, Azur, between Don-E & Zander. Still, as good as "So Cold" and the aforementioned tracks may be, the project's crÃ¨me-de-la-crÃ¨me is a reconstruction masterpiece of the Bob Marley reggae hit, "Waiting In Vain." Here, Don-E's sultry tenor and tasty horn licks emits a more soulful attitude than contemporary interpretations of "...Vain" by Jody Watley and Annie Lennox.
Listening to Natural, it is apparent to me that Don-E's journey has led to a firm grip on today's new classic soul vibe. Since Changing Seasons, Don-E has truly matured musically, finally establishing the soulful swagger one expected after those many years of listening to his parent's record collection. Early mastery of that four-track recorder and honing his production chops on several artists over the years has earned Don-E a usually spot-on production sense though the vocal overdubs could be trimmed down in places. Putting this Natural experience in perspective, as Randy Jackson may say, Dome Records has found a hot one.