When you think neo-soul, chances are Fort Worth doesn't come to mind. Nuwamba, a soulful singer with an eclectic take on R&B standards, destroys Cowtown stereotypes with his debut album, Above the Water. He croons on mellow ballads in a raspy alto, sounding like a mix of Seal and D'Angelo, and tracks like "Forever" are full of instrumental breaks that provide the soundtrack to a Maxwell-style seduction; he sings softly, "Forever embracing you/Loving you, choosing you/For a lifetime of pleasure/Forever and ever." "Heaven," with its '70s-inspired drumbeats, keeps the romance going with lyrics like "Is it soft like the sands off the coast of Africa/My love, my love." Above consists mostly of ballads and midtempo grooves, so the only up-tempo song, "Caught Up," seems out of place, and the song's hip-hop-infused production tends to drown out Nuwamba's tale of surviving street life. But other attempts at diversity pay off, particularly "When Words Are Spoken." The spoken-word interlude by Dallas native Dr. Reiland Rabaka is a welcome addition to the album and upholds Water's soul-lounge feel. Even more refreshing are Nuwamba's subtler contributions to the album. He's credited with most of the production and all of the songwriting, proving there's more to him than just a sexy voice.
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