If you want classic soul, run to him

Annapolis city worker returns to music world

December 10, 2006|By Nia-Malika Henderson | Nia-Malika Henderson,[sun reporter]

Annapolis worker returns to his roots to record solo CD

It was the Shirelles that got Anthony J. Spencer singing back in the 1960s - they were the girl group and, at 10, he could match their pitch.

By the time he was 14, Spencer was leading a local rhythm and blues band, Tra and the Diamonds. They went into the studio and recorded a song about good loving called "Run To Me" - "If you ever want to mess around, run to me, if you ever want to paint the town, run to me" - before Spencer knew much about love.

"I was like the shy kid, I wasn't an outspoken person," Spencer, 55, said. "But I found my voice in singing."

Now, Tony Spencer, the city of Annapolis' community relations coordinator, is at it again with It's Time, a collection of classic soul hits released last week.

And once again the topic is love.

Spencer, who lives in Annapolis and is the grandfather of three, said the title relates to his renewed drive to focus on singing.

So, while his day job with the city keeps him busy, this summer he found time to get into the studio. He paid for the project and put out the album on his own label, Enrapture Records.

Throughout much of his singing career he has been a gospel artist and has appeared with Shirley Caesar, BeBe & CeCe Winans and James Cleveland.

In 1987, he won the Larnelle Harris National Talent Search, a contest named for the Grammy award-winning gospel artist.

This is his second solo album and first secular one. He has been featured on four other albums as lead singer and songwriter. With his latest effort, he's back to his secular roots, and the result is 50 minutes of Spencer's take on some familiar songs.

"I wanted to sing songs that talked about relationships and were positive and by artists who are known for putting out good music," he said.

Good music is probably an understatement. Spencer has remade classics by Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, Nat King Cole, Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke.

Spencer says taking on the greats is no easy feat.

With Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," Spencer has imbued the civil rights anthem with more of a doo-wop sound, enunciating where Cooke played it rough and adding echoing background vocalists where Cooke belted it as if it was one long cry.

"Sam Cooke was so inspirational to me, and I grew up listening to him," Spencer said, adding that he grew up singing street-corner symphony. "This song is hopeful, and we've changed some of the words and the feel of it."

On Gaye's angst-filled 1970s song "What's Going On," Spencer adds near the end a poem that he wrote while he was a young and depressed Vietnam-era Marine. He wasn't sent to Vietnam, serving instead as part of the Presidential Honor Guard during the Nixon administration.

The song and the poem are still relevant today, Spencer said, and he's hoping he'll reach the old and the young with his album.

"The recording is one thing, but if it doesn't go anywhere, so what?" Spencer said. "I think everyone can relate to what's on this album."

Spencer said the recording will be available next week online at cdbaby.com and amazon.com, and is getting airplay on WNAV, 1430 AM.

Spencer's boss, Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, said of the album, "I have not heard it, and shame on me." She said she plans to listen to it.

"But Tony's got a wonderful voice." she said. "I've heard him perform a number of times, and I'm thrilled for him that he has his own album."

nia.henderson@baltsun.com

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