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Chronicling Soul 

Anthony David and Gordon Chambers bridge the gap

You'd think Atlanta-based soulman Anthony David would be sick of people telling him he sounds like Bill Withers. The resemblance is so uncanny that at first you wonder if what you're hearing isn't some recently dug up lost Withers outtakes. But after a few bars go by, you realize the style, a blend of hip-hop and soul, is too futuristic for Withers' brand of 1970s and '80s soul-folk.

David takes the comparison in stride. "I'm cool with that," he said last week by phone, from the road. "It just got me more confidence that people could say that and it would work for me." Like Withers, David tackles every song like a junkyard dog, getting his teeth into it and shaking it until every nuance is wrung out of it.

Neo-soul is what it's called these days, yet even dusted with a hip-hop vibe, David's sound nods more to the old school. But before the birth of the neo thing, a soul artist looked at hip-hop as a bad idea, an enemy. "I guess you could say post hip-hop, people that might be influenced by Marvin Gaye and the Temptations but also by Big Daddy Kane and Slick Rick," David offers as his definition of neo-soul, adding that the neo stuff often sports a harder beat, and those artists have no problem using samples as opposed to a live band.

His 2004 debut, 3 Chords And The Truth, established his soul cred. But unlike a lot of soulsters, David is not just crooning about seduction or domination. David's brand of soul has room for gritty politics as well. "Krooked Kop" is a look at the realities of drug-soaked streets and how they stay that way.

For his latest, the Red Clay Chronicles, David shifted his focus a bit. Like most great soul men -- think Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett -- he can bang it out rough, raw and hard. "ATL Sunshine" a scenic run-through of David's adopted hometown, has a stiff backbeat but still has enough smooth edges to qualify as soul.

"Smoke One" sounds like a hip-hop Marvin Gaye. David confesses to being a big Gaye fan and thinks that if the singer were still around he'd appreciate some things in hip-hop. "Some of my favorite hip-hop songs use samples from him. His phrasing and his approach, he didn't know it, but it was very hip-hop."

David says he doesn't think of himself as a hip-hop artist but believes that because that genre is so influential right now that anything creative in this era is going to be called hip-hop.

He vows to stay true to his old school soul roots. "I grew up around that," he says of the hip-hop culture. "I would have done it already, and I have done it. I just bring whatever I feel could be new to that."

Thankfully, David doesn't do the wiggly thing that Aaron Neville started and a generation of would-be soul performers thought they had to emulate by swinging by their tonsils from a note, chasing it up and down the scale instead of holding it. "Tone is what is all about to me," David says. "I wanna sing something that means something to somebody, over this beat -- boom!"

Despite his impressive vocal talents, David sees his place in music as just part of a larger entity. "I'm a brick in a building that's already been built -- it's built pretty solid. There's some great stuff here," David says. " I just want to be a part of that."

Gordon Chambers, David's current tourmate, has more a of a cocktail lounge jazzy soul sound. His debut, 2005's Introducing Gordon Chambers, is smooth, seductive music, the kind of sound you'd put on for a romantic candlelit dinner where you could whisper the lyrics in your girlfriend's ear, as opposed to jumping around and trying to burn down the house like you would with Pickett or Otis.

Chambers, who opens for Davis this time out, is the better known of the two but more for his songwriting than his performing. Over the past decade, Chambers has written hits for Aretha ("The Only Thing Missing"), Beyoncé ("After All Is Said And Done") and Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown ("My Love"). Chaka Khan, Queen Latifah, Patti LaBelle and Ron Isley have also benefited from Chambers' songwriting skills.

Chambers' 1980s style urban contemporary soul makes a good appetizer -- just make sure you save some room for Anthony David's main course.

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