In the spring of 2001, the English soul singer Craig David had conquered Europe but hadn't even dented America, where the idea of a black man singing futuristic dance music lodged between R&B and pop is somewhat less mind-blowing. The suits at Atlantic Records realized they'd have to break David on a personal level, not a demographic one. So when I attended an invite-only showcase in Chicago for radio and press reps, the free food and drink weren't the only attraction: David sat on a stool next to another guy on a stool with an acoustic guitar and sang stripped-down versions of tunes from his high-tech debut, attempting to let us get to know the person behind the press kit.
There was no free food or drink the last time I saw thirtysomething New York-based singer-guitarist Raul Midón, but I'm fairly sure the suits at Manhattan Records would love to introduce Midón on a similarly personal level: The dude's blind, he's half-Argentine, and he has worked with a wide range of collaborators including Little Louie Vega, half of the house duo Masters at Work, and big-league old-school producer Arif Mardin. This is a much more vivid backstory than those of many of the Chardonnay-set crooners with whom Midón rubs demographic elbows, possibly excepting the surprisingly quiet fact that Norah Jones is Ravi Shankar's daughter.
Yet what's sort of great about State of Mind, Midón's major-label debut, is that it sounds as relaxed and low-key as David sounded at that Chicago gig, where the only weapon he had at his disposal was his voice and his songs. Midón is a tremendous guitar player, attacking the instrument with a percussive, syncopated fury that improbably makes perfect sense beneath his full, smoky tenor, whose Stevie-Donny-Marvin sinew he augments with seemingly improvisational flights à la his folk-soul predecessor Terry Callier. Lyrically, he takes cues from the wrong Wonder records: Turns out "everybody is free to make a difference," which is wonderful news. But Midón plays around his biographical baggage with style and aplomb here; he deserves every stool he sits on.
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