Tony Rich / The Tony Rich Project


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Tony Rich (or "the Tony Rich Project," as he likes to call himself) hit the jackpot with his debut album, Words, in 1996. It sold a million copies; threw off a million-selling single, "Nobody Knows"; and won the Grammy Award for best R&B album. Then, everything fell apart. The 1998 follow-up, Birdseye, was a flop, and Rich left major-label-affiliated LaFace Records, issuing his next two discs, Resurrected and Pictures, on independent labels to little notice. Hidden Beach Recordings, which is releasing his fifth album, Exist, is another independent, but it has a track record in breaking and reestablishing adult R&B artists. That's a category into which Rich fits. Writing, performing, and producing the music by himself, he has created an album of rhythmic, romantic ballads. The obvious antecedent is Marvin Gaye; though somewhat more restrained as a vocalist, Rich sings in a similar high tenor rising into falsetto. And he is a loverman, expressing devotion to his romantic ideal when he isn't pleading with her to restore her affection. The album cover, also contributed by Rich, is a sketch of a buxom angel with symbols of musical instruments tattooed to her body and holding a pair of drum sticks. It's a good image for Rich's shared desires of erotic love, spirituality, and music, and he pursues those desires consistently on this set of melodic, propulsive tunes. Whether the effort will make for a commercial comeback is another matter, but Rich's sense of craftsmanship is apparent.

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