Heston - Storyteller (2008)

Heston
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Quiet sophistication aptly describes Atlanta newcomer, Heston, on his graceful debut, Storyteller. Commercial adult contemporary has their Kem and smooth jazz their Raul Midon.  Now in Heston, independent soul fans have their own sensitive and mature balladeer. Against a milieu of soft rock, acoustic jazz and island rhythms, Heston delicately sings of love and relationships from a grown-up man's perspective. Though there is an abiding evenness on Storyteller that keeps the dynamics of this project firmly restricted to nuance, subtlety and -- on the more rhythmic tracks -- groove, Heston's craftsmanship will certainly satisfy those who've been patiently waiting for this Dominican's island folktales of love.

Quiet sophistication aptly describes Atlanta newcomer, Heston, on his graceful debut, Storyteller. Commercial adult contemporary has their Kem and smooth jazz their Raul Midon.  Now in Heston, independent soul fans have their own sensitive and mature balladeer. Against a milieu of soft rock, acoustic jazz and island rhythms, Heston delicately sings of love and relationships from a grown-up man's perspective. Though there is an abiding evenness on Storyteller that keeps the dynamics of this project firmly restricted to nuance, subtlety and -- on the more rhythmic tracks -- groove, Heston's craftsmanship will certainly satisfy those who've been patiently waiting for this Dominican's island folktales of love.

Heston's emotional undress on these elegantly organic tracks is never rushed, never less than clear in its direction. He doesn't push you to love him: Heston knows - if given the chance to do his thing - your love will come. His confident steadiness is refreshing for a relatively new artist. With a feathery voice that falls between a more masculine Maxwell and a less melismic Eric Benet, Heston's blend of Caribbean ease and southern gentility pulls listeners into a cool breeze world of couples swinging on front porches, walking along sandy beaches, and sharing a glass of wine while stargazing. On slow jams like "Easy" and the calypso flavored duet with Angela Johnson, "Dreamy Eyes," Heston definitely sets the mood; yeah, that kind.  

As pleasant as the Caribbean and acoustic soul is on Heston's debut, for me, the alternating 70's soft rock and jazz fusion productions on mid-to-up-tempo cuts are the more interesting. "Hello Sunday" sounds like the Doobie Bros. if they'd spent a sojourn in the West Indies. "Radio" has the feel of bands like America or Chicago at their most urban chic. The spirited jam session "Sunny Days" would nicely suit Al Jarreau or the Average White Band in their prime. In their illusory ease, the three years Heston spent working on Storyteller's production with Khari Simmons, Phil Davis and Sam Simms yield high dividends on these first-rate jams.

Lyrically, Heston, who penned this 15 song chronicle, reveals himself a loyalist who loves hard, sometimes to his detriment as on "Your Perfume." "Distant Lover," exposes Heston's penchant for the emotionally unavailable. But don't get his commitment confused with weakness; "No Way, No How" shows that this brother knows how to make one helluva dramatic exit once he's fed up. Actually, on several songs, including on the Jamiroquai funk of "My Being," there is an understated strength and temperament to our man, Heston. While Storyteller is mostly preoccupied with love and relationships, Heston does cleverly offer a glimpse into his political consciousness on the war protest song, "Good Morning America."

There are indeed many different influences peppering Storyteller, but they are in conversation with, rather than defining, Heston's stylistic approach and very adult contemporary sound. What speaks to Heston's character is his candor in openly crediting their influence on his sound. On the closing track, "Songbirds," Heston offers up a heavenly tribute to some of the songs, artists, and music that enthuse his own artistic journey. Ironically, it's on this sung incantation about musical inspirations - one that could have been positively cloying in less sincere hands - that Heston best demonstrates his uniqueness as an artist and a more generous vocal range. Few artists have Heston's awesome ability to tend a lyric with such endearing restraint.

On Storyteller, Heston proves he is a soul original. After so many recent misfires by heavily marketed, but underwhelming "soul" singers, it's nice to finally witness a debut artist fulfill the hype. For that, Heston, we thank you. Highly recommended.

--L. Michael Gipson

 
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