Click to hear: “Destination”
Nigel Hall is an exceptionally talented R&B singer and keyboard player. Originally from the Washington D.C. area, Hall moved to Bangor as a teen. Now in his mid-20s, having gigged extensively in Maine with his own band and others, he’s ready to take on the world.
Hall’s debut album, The Face of Things to Come, is a slick mix of modern R&B and jazzy funk released on the New York-based indie label New Sound Network. The result of years of hard work, this album is Hall’s ticket to stardom, and he deserves every success that comes his way.
The opening track, “Destination,” is the catchiest and most accomplished-sounding song on the record. Originally released on Rustic Overtones drummer-turned-R&B-singer Tony McNaboe’s 2003 album of the same name, Hall makes it his own here, adding layers of vocal overdubs atop an insistent, funky groove.
Hall’s singing shows that he’s soaked up the vocal techniques of soul greats like Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder (who was himself influenced by Hathaway’s vocal style) and Curtis Mayfield (most noticeably on “In Love Again,” a Hall original). He lets loose and improvises over the outros of most of these songs, displaying a confidence and soulfulness as a vocalist that’s rarely heard from anyone singing any style of music in Maine. (Hall’s sister, Kenya, of the funky local band 151, is another exception.)
Five of this album’s eight studio tracks are covers, including two George Duke compositions: the funky instrumental “Red Clay” and “Don’t Be Shy,” a vocal number from 1976′ Liberated Fantasies extolling the virtues of masturbation (Duke had been playing with Frank Zappa for a couple years prior to Fantasies‘ release, which explains a lot). “Shy” is an odd choice in this respect, since Hall otherwise keeps his lyrics pretty clean, and several songs border on schmaltz (like the Paris Toon composition “Simply You” and “Someday,” a Hall original).
Commenting on the kinds of music he likes to listen to, Hall said in a promotional interview with his new label, “It’s especially good when the artist has something substantial to sing about. Instead of singing about ‘throw your underwear on the dresser and let’s get busy,’ they are teaching you something and expressing righteousness through their music…. I just want to hear good music. I was blessed by God to be able to make good music and I wanna show people that it can still be done in a civilized manner.”
Fair enough, though musically, Hall’s a little too civilized. His jazz approach stifles the songwriting and dilutes the funk on most of the studio cuts, though the inclusion of three “rehearsal” bonus tracks proves Hall and his band can really cook.
Of particular note is the work of Portland guitarist John Notto, whose impeccable playing on “Destination” calls to mind the great session men who shredded on Steely Dan’s ’70s albums. Notto absolutely rips through a solo on Hall’s version of Ronnie Laws’ “Always There,” and his turn on the rehearsal cut “Shuffle” is jaw-dropping.
Hall himself is no slouch on the keys. His bits on “Don’t Be Shy” are especially tasty. The band is tight on that tune’s tricky groove and throughout The Face of Things to Come. (Speaking of which, it would have been nice to have the band members listed somewhere on the album. They deserve the credit.)
When Hall played a CD release show last month at The Big Easy, opener Megan Jo Wilson (herself releasing an album that night) said it was probably the last time Hall would be gigging in town, as he’s off to make his way in the wild world of national record deals and tours. Hall told me himself that night he’d like to come back someday, but it’s clear his career is taking him to bigger ponds.
With this impressive debut under his belt, Hall is indeed on his way to greatness. Here’s hoping he keeps it real, raw and soulful no matter where the journey leads.
— Chris Busby
For more on Nigel Hall, see nigelhallmusic.com.