Gene Noble - The Rebirth of Gene

Gene Noble
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Unsigned L.A. based, Long Island bred newcomer, Gene Noble, represents both what R&B/soul fans are hungry for and some of the reductive annoyances of modern radio soul. Unvarnished in its truth telling and vulnerabilities, Noble’s debut is steeped in honest emotionalism and candid storytelling. Noble also boasts one of the best sung releases of the year to-date, unleashing a range little seen outside of such male artists as BSlade, Rahsaan Patterson, and Cleveland P. Jones. Stunning when it’s good and equally disappointing when it follows the crowd, the Rebirth of Gene reflects a young artist reared on the greats, but still with a very calculated ear to the streets and radio. For those willing to jump a few tracks or let them grow on you, the bulk of the Rebirth of Gene harkens a truly promising talent worth skipping the copper to get to the gold.

Unsigned L.A. based, Long Island bred newcomer, Gene Noble, represents both what R&B/soul fans are hungry for and some of the reductive annoyances of modern radio soul. Unvarnished in its truth telling and vulnerabilities, Noble’s debut is steeped in honest emotionalism and candid storytelling. Noble also boasts one of the best sung releases of the year to-date, unleashing a range little seen outside of such male artists as BSlade, Rahsaan Patterson, and Cleveland P. Jones. Stunning when it’s good and equally disappointing when it follows the crowd, the Rebirth of Gene reflects a young artist reared on the greats, but still with a very calculated ear to the streets and radio. For those willing to jump a few tracks or let them grow on you, the bulk of the Rebirth of Gene harkens a truly promising talent worth skipping the copper to get to the gold.

Let’s get out of the way upfront what detracts from the glory of Gene Noble’s otherwise “must-have” debut: needlessly coarse language. Following the heavily treaded road of R&B singers like August Alsina and sung rappers like Drake, Noble favors the f-bomb on a few tracks more than is necessary. In this he’s a product of his much-maligned generation and a bevy of soul artists who took what works in hip hop and tried to bring it over to R&B, darkening a blues that doesn’t need it to make its point. On cuts like “Still Here,” the cursing just feels gratuitous. On a piece of atmospheric, introspective P.M. Dawn art like the declarative “All I Give A F**k About” the profanity distracts and reduces what is a beautiful vocal and an insightful message and cheapens it (there are some particularly fine defenses of his generation to be found in this song, but most who’d need to hear it will tune out because of the profane chorus). With a list of producers behind the boards, including: JRB (for the Coalition), SamTRax (for Forever 87), Wil Baptiste (of Black Violins), Sonny J. Mason, Lion’s Share, and Lunchtime Legends, the indigo coated album is uneven, transitioning from the typical and mundane to the brilliantly unexpected track to track. That said, when the Rebirth of Gene is on, it’s a sun star.      

And there perhaps isn’t a brighter one than the Rod Temperton-infused “Aware,” a seductive astral romp of falsetto ascendancy whose vocal perfection and pristine production may be one of the most astonishing performances by a young artist this year. With just this one song, Noble lets you know he is a technician of range and power, easily transitioning from baritone to alto seamlessly. He doesn’t leave it there, bringing a layered vocal of glorious beauty on the spacious “Wherever You Are” that is wholly committed to the lyric and emotion demanded by a track that literally floats through the clouds. Vulnerable is his middle name on the drunken, lonely plea of “Vices,” featuring rapper Emilio Rojas, with a blues that is stark in its pain and need and where Noble’s bare-knuckled approach to songwriting feels completely unforced and appropriate. “Vices” may be harsh, but it’s raw and honest and is sure to find many an ear who has been in those desperate, midnight hour shoes.

Noble isn’t just strumming his pain, he also has something meaningful to say on the political, rage-at-the-machine powerhouse, “Lies,” which is a rebuking anthem for an age where few institutions have proven themselves adept at little else. You haven’t heard a digitally enhanced, stacked gospel chorus as soulfully good on “Lies” since Anthony Hamilton’s “I’m a Mess.” In all of its electric guitar goodness and church harmonics, D’Angelo, who inspired Noble’s decision to be an artist, would be proud.

Heavy on the emo, Noble breaks the dark skies that prevail on the Rebirth of Gene with a golden ray of love and optimism with “Hideaway,” a sublime work of soul pop that is unlike anything else on the project. “Hideaway” demonstrates Noble’s potential range as a songwriter who knows how to create a catchy melody and uplift when called on to do so. On a Marvin Gaye worthy “Lay You Down,” Noble also shows he can be the bedroom lothario with equal aplomb, in ways that are sensual and romantic rather than explicit and exploitive. It’s on songs like “Lay You Down” that one can hear Gene Noble’s principle influence, Prince. And like the Purple Majesty, Noble’s natural is as desirable and effective as his effortless falsetto.

Remaining songs like “Twilight,” “Imagination,” and “Still Here” are not poorly made songs; far from it. They just are shallow, radio-ready pools in comparison to the oceans of artistic creativity that sparked the rest of this highly musical project. While Noble’s been candid to discuss the relationships and family deaths whose pain inspired this project, these three songs could have been performed by any number of interchangeable R&B dudes crowding the marketplace these days. Noble is better than that, and the best of the Rebirth of Gene displays it. When he wants to be, Gene Noble stands head and shoulders as the real deal above a dismissible field of identity-free wannabes. This is one youngin’ who more often than not has a very strong musical sense of who he is with a decidedly urbane point of view. Now if he can just cut out all the damn cursing so someone can play him for their mama, he’d be even that much more. Recommended.            

By L. Michael Gipson

 
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