Embracing the experience

R&B singer Keite Young uses his music to connect with his listeners both spiritually and sensually

June 21, 2007|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

He hopes you feel him.

As R&B newcomer Keite Young discusses his debut, The Rise & Fall of Keite Young, he stresses the idea of the record being an intense, soul-baring conversation with the listener.

"My vision for this record revolved around relating to people," says the singer-songwriter, who plays Eden's Lounge tonight. "Some scenarios are personal, some I imagined. I wanted to give a sense of kinship."

In doing that, Young (whose first name is pronounced "keet") leans on familiar elements of Prince, Sly Stone and Al Green as he croons kaleidoscopic songs of redemptive and romantic love. In a way, the 30-year-old Fort Worth, Texas, native extends the smoky retro soul that catapulted D'Angelo to the top of the charts in the mid-'90s.

"The process I take, it's more organic," says Young, who last week was at his home in Dallas. "My goal is to write great songs, not so much hooks and catchy chants."

The debut, which will be released by Hidden Beach Recordings on July 24, is a musical reflection of the Southern gospel and blues Young absorbed while growing up in Texas. For him, singing came as naturally as breathing; it was in the blood. His maternal grandfather was a professional blues singer, and his mother was a gospel vocalist who once sang in Kirk Franklin's choir. (In 1997, two years out of high school, Young also toured in the gospel star's ensemble.)

But given all the music around him and his talent for singing and writing songs, a career in music wasn't Young's first calling. When he was 15, the artist was ordained as a minister. At the time, he thought the coexistence of spirituality and secularity (a battle fought by several soul men before him, including Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and Al Green) was impossible.

"There was a passion for both the spiritual and the sensual," says Young, an impeccably groomed man whose silken, shoulder-length tresses rival those of any female singer on the scene these days. "But having those examples -- the Als, the Marvins -- helped me find a niche. There was a time when it was pressed on me that spirituality and sensuality were enemies. But I've done some living, man, and I embrace the human experience, which is spiritual and sensual. It's a personal journey. You have to grow and look at your own relationship with the source, the life force, or whatever you believe in."

In the past decade, Young has concentrated on refining his sound, playing gigs around Texas and learning his way around a studio. (He wrote, produced and programmed much of The Rise & Fall of Keite Young.) Around 2002, his great uncle, former NBA player and smooth jazz guitarist Wayman Tisdale, passed Young's demo tape to Steve McKeever, president of Hidden Beach, whose roster includes multiplatinum neo-soul queen Jill Scott and R&B husband-and-wife duo Kindred. The artist was signed right away.

But Young took his time crafting the album's swirling mix of gospel-charged R&B and funk-rock, all driven by his yearning, Prince-inspired falsetto. He deliberately mingles urgent uplifting messages ("Shine" and "Pray") with sultry tales of carnality ("The Way That You Love Me" and "If We Were Alone," a duet with soul singer and fellow Texan N'Dambi).

"My hope with this album is that people get that they're not as alone as they think," Young says. "We all share common trials and desires. I want them to know I'm honest, I'm human, and the journey is something to be embraced. The album is just an introduction to what I hope will be 40, 50 years of conversations."

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

See Keite Young and Jaguar Wright as part of the Soul Kitchen Live series at Eden's Lounge, 15 W. Eager St., tonight. Admission is free before 8, and $20 after. For more information, go to edenslounge.com.

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