Javier Colon - The Truth Acoustic EP (2011)

Javier Colon

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More than simply the inaugural winner of NBC’s hit vocal competition, “The Voice,” Javier Colon has been making music for over a decade. With one surefire R&B album and one considerably less steady follow-up urban soul project to his credit, one might have thought Colon would end up in the dustbins of R&B history, a trivia question for soul music geeks. Then five-years later “The Voice” happened and suddenly there was a reason to pay attention again, not just to the man who seemed pre-ordained to win from the show’s first prescient “Time After Time” promo commercials, but also to the artist who kept recording music long after the industry and audiences had stopped paying attention. In the independently released The Truth Acoustic EP, it turns out there was something honest and real worth paying attention to.

More than simply the inaugural winner of NBC’s hit vocal competition, “The Voice,” Javier Colon has been making music for over a decade. With one surefire R&B album and one considerably less steady follow-up urban soul project to his credit, one might have thought Colon would end up in the dustbins of R&B history, a trivia question for soul music geeks. Then five-years later “The Voice” happened and suddenly there was a reason to pay attention again, not just to the man who seemed pre-ordained to win from the show’s first prescient “Time After Time” promo commercials, but also to the artist who kept recording music long after the industry and audiences had stopped paying attention. In the independently released The Truth Acoustic EP, it turns out there was something honest and real worth paying attention to.

When the wildly infectious lead single “Crazy”from Javier’s self-titled album (then no last name)  simultaneously hit Urban Adult Contemporary radio  and the pop and R&B charts in 2003,  industry watchers were impressed. But, when one saw the mischievous-eyed, clean-cut Dominican/Puerto Rican vocalist in the high-rotation video on BET, some thought maybe they were watching a burgeoning superstar in the making. The album boasted safe, but flawlessly polished contemporary R&B that had enough class to attract mature audiences but enough rhythm and melisma-rich vocal styling to invite a younger audience to Javier’s silky smooth world. But, then someone bumped their head in Capitol’s A&R or marketing department, and the milquetoast “Beautiful U R,” easily one of the weakest tracks on the album was sent out as a follow-up to “Crazy,” killing all momentum. To say it was DOA is an understatement. Despite boasting the early promise of “Crazy,” the talents of trumpeter Roy Hargrove and pianist Mulgrew Miller on the flawless “October Sky,” and the blues orchestrations of the iconic Larry Gold on “Songs for Your Tears,” Javier failed to reach gold. As did its 2006 follow-up, Left of Center, despite the catchy hip hop soul lead single, “Wassup,” a tune that also enjoyed strong radio play in key markets with little impact on album sales. Accordingly, Capitol and Javier parted ways. 

Had the Connecticut-born Javier been a manufactured R&B pin-up, then that might have been the end of a familiar industry story.  But Colon was the real deal. He had had nearly four years and two bands under his belt before going solo before signing with Capitol. He’d been on second vocals and percussions duty in soul/funk cover band, EmcQ, and was the touring frontman for the Grammy Award-winning Derek Trucks Band. Colon had also been formally trained as a music education major at the University of Hartford’s Hart School. This training and experience can be heard in the acoustic soul and folk of his third effort and independently released The Truth Acoustic, a six-track EP that will carry over new fans of a far less urbane Javier until they get his major label comeback project later this year.

Lyrically personal to the point of voyeuristic, The Truth is the portrait of an artist approaching his middle years. Musically, singer/songwriter Javier is a more soulful John Denver and more elastic Olu on spare songs that pay homage to his wife, children, and struggle. The character-building experiences that brought each well-earned crinkle to the 33-year old father’s otherwise young eyes can be felt throughout the project’s stripped down testimonies. The light country blues “Meant to Be” is perhaps the most revealing of the hardships Colon experienced both before and since his major label days, the humbling kind that made America fall for him. What was sometimes interpreted as distance when Javier briefly spoke to America after his emotional, occasionally oversung performances on The Voice, is uncovered as a philosophical matter-of-factness that helped steel the singer against the many disappointments that coming “close but no cigar” surely wrought. When you hear his restrained then powerfully earnest promise to his wife to “Come Through,” Colon sings every married musician’s prayer to his faithful partner, an often thankless role requiring Job-like patience for an unsure Chimera. Then there are the times of loss, when love is not enough, and in Colon one hears a musician’s plea for endurance and forgiveness in “When” and “The Case of You.” The lyrics are detailed and the tear-stained vocals better than anything heard on The Voice, with Colon “running” on occasion but demonstrating an appreciation for melody that seemed to elude him on the show.

While consistent with the folk rock and pop sounds heard on The Voice, nothing about the strictly piano and acoustic guitar excursions on The Truth reflects Javier’s two previous urban forays. Despite how adept Colon was at UAC, the clean minimalism here feels like a more homey bed for his crying tenor. There’s honesty in tone and presence here that felt technically performed on Javier and Left of Center; While those disc were filled with unwavering accuracy, they never felt as authentic as Javier’s love songs to his daughters, “When Amaia Cries” and the precious “My Little Girl.” The same love for family that Javier spotlighted on the show, reverberates throughout this project, giving fans a kind of backstage back-story to the artist who’d less than a year after making these recordings would go on to win a much-needed $100,000 and a recording contract, giving a new lease on his wavering dream. It’s nice to learn the man we met and loved was real, when so little on reality TV is. Listening to The Truth Acoustic makes it easier to repeat with even confidence: it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. Highly recommended.

By L. Michael Gipson

 

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