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From the bottom up 

Soul vocalist Anthony David goes for major-label gold

Invoke the name Anthony David in a room of mainstream music fans and you'll undoubtedly see a lot of confused expressions.

An Atlanta-based vocalist and musician, David is known primarily by folks who consume underground soul music -- not well-known stuff by the likes of Chris Brown, Usher or T-Pain. And that's because, over the last decade or so, he's been on the grind in indie-land -- touring small clubs, racking up thousands of MySpace friends and releasing albums independently or through small labels without much support from radio.

On top of that, his weathered voice, stripped-down instrumentation and real-world lyrics are unlike the crap that's generally heard or promoted in today's hit-driven music industry.

A few months ago, however, David -- who started singing years ago with his good friend India.Arie -- got snatched from the D.I.Y. world by Universal Republic, under the company's SoulBird recording imprint (which is, ironically, helmed by Arie).

His debut major label CD, titled Acey Ducey, hit stores last month -- and with that, it appears his status as a strictly underground superstar may be coming to an end.

Not surprisingly, David is excited by his impending ascension to mass-market recognition. But he's quick to point out that being signed to a big label isn't an artistic or marketing panacea.

"It feels good. It is still tough though," David says. "We are still running and stuff. [For example] they only put my video [for the single "Words" featuring Arie] on VH1Soul and BETJ, but I [got play on those networks before] on my own. But because of the new video, we were able to do something we weren't able to do before: get into regular rotation with BET."

"Words" is one of 12 songs on Acey Ducey, which long-time fans will notice doesn't contain any brand-new songs. For his first release from SoulBird, the decision was made to compile some of his most popular songs that were previously recorded on his first two independently released albums.

"It's the greatest hits," David says with a laugh. "But when you have two records from independent labels, anything can be new material. Some people got Three Chords and the Truth [the first CD] and don't know I got the Red Clay Chronicles. Very few people have both. A lot of people that are genuinely my friends told me, 'I love that new song you got with India.' I thought for sure they would have heard that before. But it's kind of fortunate because the material gets this kind of exposure. I am not leaving any material behind."

David, along with Arie, cut his teeth in clubs in the ATL. Before becoming a vocalist, he spit stanzas as a poet. Eventually, he learned to play guitar and served as a quasi-member of the Georgia-based hip-hop/rock outfit El Pus. Before long, he was singing and writing songs on stages by himself, many times to teeny-tiny audiences. Luckily for people who are new to his music, you don't need to know the dude's history to enjoy his new project.

But while Acey Ducey can obviously serve as a primer to what David is all about musically, listeners who've been down from the start will probably wonder when they can hear new tunes.

"Some people have been like, 'Where's the new stuff?' I made mix tapes and put out new stuff, that way to keep some people content," he says. "Right now, I'm moving to a new studio space, and we will be doing all new recording here. We're trying to build up a big audience and try to get to headline status and come back with some new stuff in the spring of next year."

And for his nervous older fans who think his gritty, bluesy and organic brand of soul will be compromised by a money-hungry corporation, David says there's no need to fear.

"I have been on independent labels that make crazier demands that major labels. The people at Universal aren't interested in that. They are interested in what we are doing," he says "That's one reason we have done it through India -- because that's the type of artists she already represents, so that's a brand name they can depend on."

Anthony David will perform at Evening Muse on July 15 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15.

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