It was Solar Radio disc jockey Dave Brown who first gave me the heads up to one of the more unlikely great new Soul albums of 2006 - by an artist sitting in that not-so-obvious Soul Music haven of Paris, France. But singer/songwriter Nyr (pronounced like "near") is the real deal, and his self-titled debut is a great slice of Stevie Wonder-influenced soul music that pays homage to the master while still sounding fresh.
Raised in France the son of an Indian father and a North African mother, Nyr grew up in a house dominated by music. His father was a singer and guitarist, and he provided Nyr with a steady dose of American soul. Nyr later attended the National Musical School of Villeurbanne and solidified his dream of being a Soul singer and songwriter.
Nyr moved to Paris in 1998 and began singing around Europe wherever he could get gigs. He performed in some of the famed UK "Weekender" soul festivals and recorded some singles, ultimately catching the ear of disc jockeys in the UK and Germany. Finally, in 2004 Nyr began working on his debut album with songwriter/producer Guillaume Poncelot, singer/songwriter Crystal Night and others. The result of their collaboration is Nyr, released in Europe in late 2005 and in the US in February 2006.
Nyr is, by any measurement, a solid debut and a display of Nyr's substantial talent as a singer and songwriter. Stevie Wonder's influence is omnipresent on the disc (especially on songs like "Fine," which has the feel of Wonder's "Superwoman"), and other influences such as Frank McComb ("Destiny"), Marvin Gaye ("Dance 4 Me") and Glenn Lewis ("The End of U and Me") can also be heard. But while the echoes of these artists are clearly present, Nyr avoids sounding overly derivative and does a nice job of injecting a contemporary feel that should keep old schoolers happy while also interesting younger listeners.
It is impossible to deny the uniform irresistibility of the disc's fine compositions and performances, especially "Ride Wit You," "Destiny," fine ballads like "The Only One" and "The Man I Am," and the album's highlight, the joyous "Magical Breath." The fact is, while lyrically the album is fairly run-of-the-mill, musically there isn't anything even close bad cut. This is a left-field charmer that should find a substantial audience for lovers of melodic adult soul. Recommended.
By Chris Rizik