Married ... with soul

MUSIC

Aja Graydon and Fatin Dantzler want to talk about their CD, but first, check out the baby pictures

October 27, 2005|By RASHOD D. OLLISON | RASHOD D. OLLISON,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

There's a mild disagreement between the husband and wife.

You're inside a chic seafood restaurant in downtown Baltimore, sitting across from Aja Graydon and Fatin Dantzler of Kindred the Family Soul. They want your input. Dantzler, dressed casually in jeans and a loose-fitting, dark-blue Polo shirt, focuses his sleepy-looking eyes on you as he holds out his cell phone. On the screen is a close-up shot of Nina, the couple's 1-year-old daughter.

"Now, you tell me who she looks like," he says.

Graydon, regal in a flowing red and gold top, removes her glasses and leans forward. "Look at the eyes," she says. "Don't let his light skin fool you. She looks like me."

The baby actually looks like both of her parents with her father's creamy, butter-colored complexion and her mother's warm, slanted eyes. You tell the couple this, and the two seem satisfied.

The Philadelphia-based pair is in town to promote their new release, the fluid In This Life Together. It's the follow-up to Kindred's sparkling 2003 debut, Surrender to Love. Like that album, the new CD brims with mature, sentimental love songs. It is the couple's second for Hidden Beach/Epic Records. The 18-cut album also features vivid tunes about married life and being parents of three little ones: 1-year-old Nina, 4-year-old Aquil and 3-year-old Diya. Lyrically, nothing ever becomes too precious or sappy. Graydon, 26, and Dantzler, 30, write realistic songs, clear snapshots of everyday struggles to hold on to love. The bitter and the sweet; the ugly and the beautiful.

Kindred performs tomorrow night at Washington's 9:30 Club.

"I just feel like I just became an adult," Graydon says. "These are revelations that I'm writing about. ... The record is still Kindred. It just explores who we are totally."

There's a difference in the production on In This Life Together. The debut rippled with full, live instrumentation.

"On the first album, a lot of the songs were done live first and became popular," Graydon says. "So we wanted to record the songs live. ... We wanted to stay true to what people enjoyed about us before we cut a [record] deal."

On the new album, Kindred went for a more polished, sleeker sound with prominent programmed keyboards and drums, a heavier bottom. The arrangements are thoroughly modern, imbued at times with live instrumentation - a saxophone solo here, a delicate guitar line there. The CD still retains some of the warmth and fullness that made the debut so inviting.

"I don't know if it was an open decision [to implement a new sound]," Graydon says. "It was just a part of us. A lot of [producers] gave us new music that we were open to."

Dantzler speaks up. "We went with what felt good to us, the way we did on the first record," he says. "But the whole thing of being pigeonholed as a throwback to the past - we wanted to define ourselves right now in 2005."

When Surrender to Love came out, several critics called Kindred the new Ashford & Simpson, which wasn't too far off. Like that husband-and-wife duo, Graydon and Dantzler write mostly celebratory love songs. But their tunes aren't as pop-friendly or gospel-inflected as Ashford & Simpson classics: "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "You're All I Need to Get By," "Solid." Kindred's confessional songs aren't as tightly written, either. They're decidedly jazzier than anything associated with the legendary Motown team. Actually, the Philly couple are more reminiscent of Womack & Womack, the experimental husband-and-wife duo best known for the 1983 R&B hit, "Baby, I'm Scared of You."

"Yeah, we have a lot of influences from the past," Dantzler says. "But we have to make some music that says 2005. And we're still trying to define it. Even this album may not be the defined sound yet. We're finding our way like any other group."

The current single, the dreamy "Where Would I Be (The Question)," floats on a spacious, midtempo groove that updates classic Roy Ayers. Another highlight is the naughty "Sneak a Freak," a grinding, chunky funk number with a smoking saxophone solo."Oh, that's a fun song," Graydon says, smiling. She throws a knowing look at her husband.

"You know how it is," Dantzler says. "You have to sneak those intimate moments in when you have kids."

"And we have three kids now," Graydon says, laughing.

Music has been cathartic for the young couple. Their fears, joys and struggles are all distilled in the lyrics, the muscular grooves, the airy ballads. "We're trying our best to make music that comes from the heart and the spirit," Dantzler says. "It's music that says where we are right now."

"We just tell the truth," Graydon interjects. "We've been married for seven years. To some, that's a long time. But it's really not. I mean, would you take advice from a 7-year-old? When we get to 50 years, then we'll really have a lot to say."

See Kindred the Family Soul at the 9:30 Club, 815 V St. N.W. in Washington, tomorrow night at 10. Tickets are $20. For more information, visit 930.com

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

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