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As fads come and go, it’s nice to know that some things never go out of style. Case in point: power-packed R&B as delivered by soulful singer/songwriter Avant.
The masterful crooner is back on point with his seventh album, Face the Music (Feb. 5, 2013). Inspired by the R&B legends—Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Frankie Beverly & Maze, Luther Vandross and Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds—who have been guiding lights in Avant’s career, the project marks the singer’s first release on the Capitol/EMI-distributed independent label Mo-B. But the set does more than just pay homage to R&B masters. Thanks to Avant’s inventiveness, Face the Music cooks up a tantalizing blend of contemporary and traditional sounds.
“It’s a taste of new school and old school,” explains Avant. “You might hear a piece of, say, Stevie Wonder or Babyface, then I spin right back around and offer up some new age R&B. It’s a well-rounded album with something for everyone. At the end of the day, Face the Music is about who we are and what we live by; it’s about respecting that as well as the music.”
Jumpstarting the buzz about the forthcoming album is lead single “You & I,” Avant’s long-anticipated reunion with duet partner Keke Wyatt. Already a top 10 hit on Billboard’s Adult R&B chart and currently climbing the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs tally, the searing love ballad revisits the natural magic Avant and Wyatt conjured on their first hit together, “My First Love.”
“Keke was only 16 when we did ‘My First Love,’” recalls Avant. “I’d never heard a voice like that coming from someone so young. She still possesses that same amazing spirit and soul when she sings.”
Avant traveled to Chicago to record Face the Music, writing every song on the 12-track set. Production collaborators included Grammy Award-winning duo Tim & Bob (Boyz II Men, TLC, Bobby V), who contributed three songs, and the trio Monopoly. The latter is comprised of Avant, Dre Hen and Kajun. Kajun, a promising newcomer signed to the L.A. Reid Music Publishing Company, produced the Ludacris hit, “Sex Room.”
In addition to hit single “You & I,” Face the Music’s highlights include the mid-tempo charmer “Best Friend” and the passion-filled “More.” Another standout, “Wish That I Could Love You,” skillfully lays out the dilemma between settling down with a significant other and still wanting to play the field.
It’s this skill set—the ability to turn real-life situations into melodic short stories, made memorable by Avant’s nuanced tenor—that gives the singer his distinctive edge. “I grew up on the Babyfaces and the Luthers; they made me who I am,” says Avant. “I’m not saying there’s a blueprint to music, but there are certain things you have to stick by. Melody comes first for me then the story. The trick is to find a different way to tell a story every time so it feels new.”
Like many R&B singers, Avant got his start singing in the church choir. After attending Cleveland School of the Arts, he became the first act signed to NBA legend Magic Johnson’s MCA-distributed label, Magic Johnson Music (MJM). Avant’s 2000 MJM debut album, My Thoughts, spun off the Billboard No. 1 R&B hit “Separated.” That was followed by the top five hit “My First Love,” a cover of the 1983 René & Angela classic featuring Wyatt. Avant returned the favor on Wyatt’s 2001 album debut, Soul Sista, pairing with her on the No. 4 hit “Nothing in This World.”
After scoring platinum with My Thoughts, Avant released two more platinum-certified albums, Ecstasy (2002) and Private Room (2003). He also added several more top 10 singles to his arsenal, including “Makin’ Good Love” and “Read Your Mind.” Fourth album Director—distributed through Geffen and the singer’s final MJM project—was released in 2006. It featured the hit “4 Minutes.” Two years later, Avant segued to Capitol for his self-titled fifth album, which yielded the top 20 single “Break Ya Back.” Rounding out Avant’s catalog are 2010’s The Letter and the 2011 hits compilation Icon: Avant, both on Verve Forecast.
A versatile singer, Avant has recorded with a diverse range of artists, including Lil Wayne and contemporary jazz multi-instrumentalist Brian Culbertson. The latter pairing resulted in the top 15 R&B hit “Skies Wide Open.” Avant was also among a select group of singers chosen to pay homage to R&B legend Frankie Beverly on Silky Soul Music … An All-Star Tribute to Maze featuring Frankie Beverly. He has even done some acting, appearing in the DVD release of playwright David E. Talbert’s “In the Nick of Tyme,” which also stars Morris Chesnut, Ellia English and Terry Dexter.
As he prepares for the release of Face the Music, Avant declares that despite more than 10 years in the game, he’s just getting started. “I got into the game knowing this is not a sprint but a marathon. And I didn’t get into it for the money. It’s still all about the chills … the music.”