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A Change Gonna Come

Calvin Richardson steeps deeper in the neo-soul stew on his second album

Unfortunately for both men, there are a lot of R&B fans who think that Calvin Richardson is really Joe, the R&B singer. It's not because they look alike, or even sound a lot alike. It's more messed up than that.

Here's how the confusion came about: Calvin Richardson, a 29-year-old singer-songwriter from Charlotte, North Carolina, composed and performed the song "More Than a Woman" with producers Eddie "Eddie F" Ferrell and Darren Lighty for a project of his own a few years back. Ferrell and Lighty were also working on Angie Stone's second album, Mahogany Soul, at the time. When Stone showed up at Ferrell and Lighty's studio one day, she took a shine to Richardson's version of "More Than a Woman," and she wanted to know if she could have the song for her album and also have Richardson perform on it.

"They asked me if I could do it with her on her album, and I was like, 'Yeah, of course, I'll do it,' " says Richardson.

Soulquake: When Calvin Richardson was a child, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and Al Green moved him in a strange way. Hear the aftershocks August 12.
Soulquake: When Calvin Richardson was a child, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and Al Green moved him in a strange way. Hear the aftershocks August 12.

Now here's where it gets tricky. The Stone-Richardson duet of "More Than a Woman" was released on Mahogany Soul, but when the track dropped as a single, a different version appeared, one with another man in Richardson's place.

"When they released it as a single, she had Joe get on the record with her," Richardson says. What's shocking is he's not at all miffed about the switch. Instead, Richardson is glad that the song got the push and recognition it deserved. The way he sees it, two other people having a hit with it is better than what his original label, Universal, had planned for it when it was just him on vocals. Or rather, it's better than what they didn't have planned…

"When I did 'More Than a Woman,' Universal wanted to put that song out as a single, with no video or nothing like that, and just see what happened," he says. What happened was it vanished without a trace. Richardson's "More Than a Woman" came out in the wake of his 1999 debut, Country Boy, a collection of smooth-jazzy R&B numbers he partially wrote and produced. Even with a glowing blurb from Wesley Snipes, Boy disappeared quickly.

But when Stone and Joe released "More Than a Woman" without Richardson, Stone had a hit on her hands. "I always felt really good about that song, and I didn't expect nothing less of it," Richardson says. "So I was excited about it. I wrote it, and I was excited about it. Still happy about it. I'm happy that she was able to get success off it, and of course, I got some as well."

Perhaps in part as a result of their failure to push his version of the song, Richardson and Universal have since parted ways. Richardson doesn't directly confirm or deny it. "We were just going in two different creative directions, you know?" he says. "In order to be a factor in the music game, you need all the support that every other artist has. You need the video; you need all those tools to really make it work."

Richardson asked to be let go from his Universal contract and the label complied in April 2001. While shopping around, Richardson met with Stone's J Records, which gave him a sit-down with the omnipotent Clive Davis. (Davis passed, but Richardson was honored that he even knew who he was.) Eventually, he landed on Hollywood Records. Richardson believes he'll be more appreciated there than he was at Universal since no one else on Hollywood is remotely like him.

"I felt like I'll be able to do my thing," he notes. "I'll have more creative control."

And indeed, with his upcoming sophomore release, 2:35 PM, Richardson says he has been granted more authority. From the looks of it, if not the sounds, we certainly have a different kind of Calvin Richardson on our hands. Gone is the guitar case-wielding, cowboy hat-wearing, nipple ring-having, lite-soul brotha of Boy,replaced by a neo-soul Nubian with a taste for wife-beater shirts.

Appearances can deceive, though, and Richardson says he is much the same guy musically, if not sartorially. "I don't think the albums are too extremely far apart," he says. "As far as I'm concerned, I stay consistent with the direction of the music. Of course, I brought a couple of different producers on it, but I wrote the whole album. So that means the beats are just a little more modern or whatever. The other album was a little bit slower -- it was a little more ballady. This one right here is a little bit more mid-tempo."

The producers who helped Richardson quicken his pace are Raphael Saadiq, one of the masterminds behind Tony! Toni! Tone! and one of neo-soul's most sought-after producers, and Mike City, another in-demand R&B producer who collaborates on the album's final track," Cross My Heart." Saadiq and City help Richardson find that retro groove that Universal hoped and failed to capture on Boy.

Richardson notes with pride that -- in contrast to Boy, which included an update of Bobby Womack's "Wish You Didn't Trust Me So Much" -- there aren't any covers on 2:35. But quite honestly, why bother, when many of the album's songs sound like old-school R&B throwbacks anyway? "Keep On Pushin'" and "Falling Out," the album's Saadiq-produced opening tracks, are shout-outs to the gospel-tinged sound Sam Cooke patented back in the day, the sounds that mesmerized Richardson as a boy and continue to do so today. His childhood home echoed with the sounds of Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Al Green and various gospel records his mama had around the house. "Just listening to those records moved me in a strange way as a kid," he says.

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