It's no secret to Soul Trackers that the challenges facing independent artists are not for the weak of heart. Even with increased outlets for exposure via social networking and Internet radio, the ability for authentic, gimmick-free performers to make a return on their investment depends on a number of factors outside of quality material and impressive live shows. Constant visibility, eye-catching tweets intertwined with clever marketing impetus, and a certain amount of free content seem to be mandates for talented folks looking to make a widespread commercial impact. If that weren't the case, then North Carolina-born, Harlem-raised crooner Walter Christopher's name would certainly be more recognized by now.
On his fourth full-length collection, The Mellisonant Album, Walter continues to deliver his signature mellifluous tones over the classic-styled sort of grooves found on his previous set, It's All about Love, Vol. 2; but he also expands his scope to include pleasingly phrased, jazz-spiced tunes that demonstrate his remarkable confidence in simply letting the feelings flow. What's most striking about his interpretations in either scenario is the unaffected way in which he wraps his chords around each line of every song. His pliable tone is at once both sophisticated and youthful. This is never more evident than on the charming "Falling in Love," a floating number which appears here in two versions. Every bit as engaging, the spunky shuffler "You're the Best" finds him smoothly gliding alongside bright sax lines by Dave Watson. "...It doesn't get no better, don't want no other pleasure," Walter declares. Musical truth.
Walter makes no unnecessary concessions to fit in with trends of the moment on The Mellisonant Album. On the straight-ahead, swinging jazz groove of "Sexy Cool," for instance, he relies purely on class and understatement to express his appreciation to a lady who's got it all together. "Such a rhythm to your walk...The atmosphere seems different/When you enter the room, time stops." But it is perhaps the free-flowing pasticcio of old-school soul, hip-hop-tinged rhythms, and funky undertones which will find the broadest audience. The influence of Stevie Wonder lightly permeates Walter's phrasing, while producer Hubert Eaves IV's keyboard stylings evoke shades of fusion and neo-soul.
Poetic lyrics are a specialty of Walter's, which are complemented in maturity by refreshing instrumental components such as french horn (on "Feels So Good") and flute ("Falling in Love"). The former finds him relishing in the unadulterated joys of new love, while he delves into the progression of a long-term friendship into romance on the latter. "I'm not sure what just happened/But when I looked in your eyes, it was different this time/Like jewels of passion/They were piercing my soul, I was lost at hello." There's just one moment on Mellisonant in which the words are a bit too Hallmark-esque. On the ballad, "Just Us Two," lyrics such as "Hear the waves of the ocean applaud for us" border on saccharine. That's a brief distraction, however, which doesn't deter from the glorious melody and calming arrangement.
The romantic story lines of Mellisonant—which Walter narrates with gentle seduction—may be targeted primarily toward female listeners. But the natural aplomb with which he relates his feelings and observations will hopefully draw in a variety of fans who appreciate the value of everyday scenarios expressed in cultured musical fashion. Furthermore, the mellow consistency of the material, which incorporates just the right balance of groove and restraint, provides an ideal platform for him to get his message across. Recommended.
by Justin Kantor
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