The so-called "neo-soul" field is already crowded with wannabe-smooth brothers who croon sweet nothings over hip-hop-laced grooves, injecting their sound with heavy Stevie Wonder-isms and Donny Hathaway inflections. A new artist, Javier (pronounced hav-e-air), wants to join the band, so to speak, with a sound that's warmly familiar. Like Glenn Lewis and Maxwell, he sets out to charm the ladies with ballads dripping passion.
"I'm an easygoing kind of guy," says the singer, 25, calling from Los Angeles. "I think it comes out in the music. I love singing to the ladies. In the seventh grade, all I wanted to do was sing and play the guitar for the girls."
Javier still does that. In the video for "Crazy," the sunny first single from his self-titled debut, the singer-songwriter serenades an almond-eyed beauty with honey vocals and nimble guitar. Then he slowly leans forward and kisses her tenderly on the lips.
With his sensitive approach and stop-and-take-another-glance good looks, Javier wants to bring romance back to the urban scene. You won't find any baby-mama dramas on his record, no gangsta posturing, no overwrought songs in the key of "ghetto-fabulous."
Javier's sound is, for the most part, pretty safe (or edgeless, some may say). The Latin singer shouldn't have a hard time appealing to the mainstream as well as urban markets. In the music, his sincerity, the charm bubbles through. And there's no denying his strong, clear voice.
"The album is not straight-up R&B," he says. "There's a jazz ballad, neo-soul. We wanted a very eclectic mix."
There's a lot riding on Javier right now. He's the first R&B act to release an album through Capitol Records' newly revamped urban department. For nearly a decade, the legendary label -- which, back in the day, recorded such legends as Frank Sinatra, Nat "King" Cole and Peggy Lee -- has been noticeably absent from the R&B charts. Capitol's last successful urban act was MC Hammer. (The label's current big star -- pop and urban -- is St. Louis rapper Chingy.)
Javier is fully aware of how the label's invisibility in the soul and Latin markets could grease the skids for his career.
"There were other labels who wanted to sign me," he says. "But the most attractive thing about Capitol was that they were willing to focus a lot of attention on my project. If I were at a major label where bigger acts were making a lot of money for the label, I don't know if my album would get much attention, especially if it didn't do so well after coming out."
So far, Javier, which came out Aug. 5, has garnered favorable reviews. And the catchy "Crazy" gets frequent spins on urban and adult-contemporary radio. The video is in steady rotation on BET and VH1.
"I'm glad that I'm a writer on every song on the album," Javier says. "That's rare for a new artist. I wanted to be there from the beginning of the creation. I wanted to be emotionally invested.
Javier (last name: Colon) was raised in Connecticut, the youngest of three. His mother is Puerto Rican. His pops, a native of the Dominican Republic, was a Spanish DJ for a radio station in Hartford. The man eventually bought his own station when Javier was in junior high school. In the summer, the young man would help his dad erase the huge catalog of track tapes to make room for the Spanish cuts. On the old tapes, Javier discovered a wealth of soul -- Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and others. Intrigued, he took some of the recordings home and relished the vocal power, absorbed the nuances.
In high school, Javier's love of soul and Latin music deepened, and he thought about pursuing a singing career. He studied composition and music theory at the Hartt School of Music, whose alumni include Dionne Warwick.
In college, he founded an a cappella quintet, and after graduation, he sang with a funk band. It was Eric Krasno, the guitarist for the groove-jazz unit Soulive, who discovered Javier and introduced him to Allman Brothers' guitarist Derek Trucks. For 18 months, Javier was the lead singer for the Derek Trucks Band, with whom he toured nationally.
After landing the Capitol deal, Javier immediately went to work on his debut, which glows with feathery Spanish guitar, relaxed strings and jazz-splashed drums. When he's not wooing the honeys, the crooner touches on spirituality ("In Your Hands") and social consciousness ("She'll Never Know.")
His debut showcases an artist with promise. There's plenty more to come.
"This is what I do naturally," Javier says. "I just want to spread what I do, man, and let the music move me."
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