Russell Leonce - Culture of Love (2009)

Russell Leonce
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Merge together the gritty vocal precision of John Legend and the neo-soul musings of Musiq, and you have gospel artist Russell Léonce on his first record, Culture of Love. Those Northern comparisons may be hard to believe when describing a Trinidadian native singing urban gospel, but early into this debut, Léonce's musical influences are evident. Yet, Léonce, who handles the bulk of the writing and background work here, brings together a soothing, versatile presence on Culture of Love that soon ends the John Legend comparisons. Much of the album's first half soars effortlessly, thanks to the cool marinade of strings and hip-hop on "Stand Up" and the poignant soulful vibes of "Why I Love You (Got to Tell Ya)." Another obvious hot spot, "Grateful," rings with a delicious, jazzy double bass and a smoky neo-soul flavor similar to the work of the soul artist Kem.

Merge together the gritty vocal precision of John Legend and the neo-soul musings of Musiq, and you have gospel artist Russell Léonce on his first record, Culture of Love. Those Northern comparisons may be hard to believe when describing a Trinidadian native singing urban gospel, but early into this debut, Léonce's musical influences are evident. Yet, Léonce, who handles the bulk of the writing and background work here, brings together a soothing, versatile presence on Culture of Love that soon ends the John Legend comparisons. Much of the album's first half soars effortlessly, thanks to the cool marinade of strings and hip-hop on "Stand Up" and the poignant soulful vibes of "Why I Love You (Got to Tell Ya)." Another obvious hot spot, "Grateful," rings with a delicious, jazzy double bass and a smoky neo-soul flavor similar to the work of the soul artist Kem. Towards the middle of Culture of Love, the songs don't swing with the swagger or confidence of the project's earlier songs, but Léonce redeems himself with "Don't Cry" and the heartfelt ballad "Unchanging." The album, void of boredom, flows with the kind of grace that is too good to just be classified as gospel music. The timely urban contemporary production and Léonce's sonorous voice elevates the album light-years ahead of today's gospel radio formats. It is clear from this offering Mr. Léonce may be one of 2009's brightest R&B/soul newcomers and an unfortunate, yet to be discovered super act for gospel. Notable songs: "Why I Love You (Got to Tell Ya)," "Stand Up," "Unchanging," "Don't Cry," "Grateful" and "Smile."

Vocals: 4 stars
Lyrics: 3.5 stars
Music: 4 stars
Production: 3.5 stars
SoulTracks Call: Highly recommended

By J. Matthew Cobb

 
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