Red Road Records
Bryan Duncan’s soulful voice has woven itself into the very fabric of modern Gospel music. With the release of A NehoSoul Christmas! Duncan further cements his status as one of Gospel music’s greatest blue-eyed soul singers, and offers one heck of a stocking stuffer to music fans of all ages.
A true veteran of the “early days,” Duncan first made his mark in the early 1970s as a member of the influential Jesus Music band Sweet Comfort. Following that band’s breakup in 1984 Duncan embarked on a solo career that is now over twenty years strong, and has produced over a dozen number one singles. Constant touring and cameo appearances on major compilations made Duncan one of the defining voices of Contemporary Christian music in the 1990s.
The Southern California based artist’s blend of R&B elements, Gospel flavored vocal stylings and contemporary production standards may have been the right formula for radio success, but the often over-produced and homogenous creative environment of the Christian music scene frequently left him less than satisfied. In 2003 Duncan formed a new band with seasoned players from around the US. Dubbed the “NehoSoul Band” (as an obvious nod to the group’s stylistic roots,) Duncan and his new musical compatriots began to rediscover the essence of classic R&B and blue-eyed soul. Their recording debut came in 2004 with Live from Music City which bowed to critical acclaim and underground success. Their hotly anticipated studio debut comes in the form of Duncan’s second Christmas set. Dripping with authentic, smooth grooves, exhilarating melodies and harmonies and bursts of old-school horns, A NehoSoul Christmas manages to find the perfect balance between soulful reverence and plain old fun.
Duncan’s choice of holiday standards for such a debut was a deliberate one. “I’ve always wanted to do more of a soul-blues Christmas project,” Duncan confesses. “I love rhythm and blues. It makes the hair on my arm stand up!” Duncan also considered a disc of holiday favorites and originals a great way to introduce his band to the world at large. “It’s great to introduce them with music that people will recognize right off. It’s a way of crossing the usual boundaries between people and the styles of music they might like…everyone appreciates Christmas songs!” Duncan also appreciates the spiritual connection possible through Christmas music. Towards that end he includes on original song, the self-penned “This Christmas.” “Christmas is a constant in an ever-changing world, and it reminds us of our childhood and our passing lives. The songs often speak of a bigger picture than our own personal experience. It makes us wonder about hope and real peace and consider those around us. It also causes us to examine ourselves. Where are we going? What do we want? What do we need?”
Produced by band member Phil Curry, A NehoSoul Christmas! recalls the best of Duncan’s classic rhythm and blues roots, showcasing his vocal versatility unlike any of his previous releases. Curry, a veteran musician who has played with such major names as Denise Williams, BeBe Winans, Olanda Draper, Ricky Dillard, Donald Lawrence, Hezekiah Walker, Marvin Sapp, Vanessa Bell Armstrong, Beverly Crawford, Sandra Crouch, Percy Bady, Yolanda Adams and others, had been a fan of Duncan’s music for decades before joining the band. “I have always loved his voice,” Curry admits, “But over the last couple of years I have developed a deeper appreciation of his songwriting abilities as well.” Curry intentionally pointed the sonic direction of the album away from trendy sounds and towards a more classic, timeless core. Years of Big Band experience, as well as a lingering connection to roots R&B and Gospel music are plainly evident in the stripped back, almost retro-soul sound. Harkening back to classic holiday favorites by Nat King Cole, Stevie Wonder, Al Green and Michael McDonald, the record sounds immediately timeless and exuberantly joyful, while simultaneously sober about the failings and pain felt by many people around the holidays.
The songs on A NehoSoul Christmas! range from deeply sacred (O Holy Night, Silent Night,) to traditional (Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Winter Wonderland, What A Wonderful World, Little Drummer Boy,) and includes a soon-to-be classic by Michael McDonald (Peace) and a Duncan original called This Christmas.
Duncan blessed the world with a Christmas album a decade ago that remains one of the most loved holiday records in Contemporary Christian Music history. But this time Duncan feels he has really captured all he loves about Christmas, and all he loves about soulful music. "While the last Christmas project soared with the choir and orchestra," Duncan explains about his classic Christmas is Jesus album of 1995, "This one swings with the classy backup singing of the Saloman Sisters and the brass of the Phil/Harmonic Horns. A Nehosoul Christmas! is probably closer to what I have playing on my stereo year-round"The connection goes beyond sonic style and straight to the soul of the songs. “The whole project is about gratitude and appreciation,” Duncan explains. ‘It’s the most positive record I’ve ever done without ignoring the realities of everyday experience.”
Duncan continues, “I know the scripture: ‘Love endures all things,’ but in many cases I haven’t seen it to be true in those around me, or myself really. We have conditions and boundaries around the love we have for each other most of the time. At Christmas those boundaries blur.” Duncan sees it all connected to the overall reality of our need for love. “To be loved is what helps me find sanity in all the chaos in my life. It’s a gift that never gets old. I’ve never grown tired of someone telling me or showing me what I mean to them! This record is just one way for me to tell my audience, my friends and family, and ultimately my God, how I feel about them.”
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