D.C. native Ricky Fante grew up a student of both Gospel and secular Soul music. His father was an engineer for the Metro and his mother an elementary school teacher, but both were music fanatics, and Ricky grew up listening to all kinds of music, including Motown, jazz and Gospel. While his influences included artists as diverse as Elvis Presley and the Ohio Players, as he grew into a teen an occasion seeing Stevie Wonder live in Washington D.C. became an epiphany for Fante, and he knew then what he wanted to be. He joined a local "go go" group (then a popular movement in DC) called the Junior Division, and began playing in public.
After high school he served in the marines for four years, then relocated to Los Angeles seeking a career in music. He won a record contract in a local talent contest, but never released a disc under the contract. He then met SoCal multi-instrumentalist Scott Rickett, and the two began an eclectic songwriting and performing collaboration, culminating in their creation of Soul Surfer Records. Says Rickett, "Here I am a ex-rocker/surfer from Huntington Beach and Ricky a ex- Marine soul singer from Baltimore with this acoustic show that was bringing the house down everywhere we played. We had punk rock surfers to 50-year-old doctors at our shows wanting to buy our music." The duo independently released the 2001 album Soul Surfing, a low fidelity recording of 11-songs (many first takes) that have an intriguing garage kind of feel and the immediacy of a live performance. The songs on Soul Surfing combine Rickett's mellow rock/surfer music sensibilities with Fante's Al Green-like wailing (check out especially the great midtempo number, "Who Stole the Soul"). The album works in its own right, and also serves as a good first view of the amalgamated sound that Rickett and Fante envisioned as they began to work together four years ago. Expect future similar releases from Soul Surfer Records.
Soul Surfer found its way to record executive Josh Deutsche, who was impressed and began working with Fante, pairing him with writer/producer Jesse Harris (who wrote the wonderful "Don't Know Why" for Norah Jones). The two began their writing collaboration in late 2002 and created a basket of songs ready to record and release. Fante was then signed by Virgin Records and Rewind was released in July, 2004. His stated goal for the album was "to bring Soul music back, but in an attractive, organized manner...to do soul music for real. I like that we used all different aspects of the music; it's a natural marriage for me to do it in that traditional sense. Sometimes songs need to be sung gritty, sometimes soft, and sometimes you have to mix it."
Rewind arrived to a flurry of critical acclaim, with Fante's traditional soul sound being compared to Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Sam Cooke. A listen to the disc's first single, "It Ain't Easy," certainly has the feel of a gritty Redding song, and the classic beat and instrumentation of late 60s Memphis. It is a dynamite mass introduction to this new artist.
by Chris Rizik