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Unspoken 
Artist: Tonex 
Label: Battery/Zomba
 
Does Tonex purposefully court controversy, or can't he help himself? And who's keeping him in check? 

A few years ago, the gospel r&b maverick born Anthony Williams was riding high with a double-CD live album. I can't have been the only one who heard him clearly state that preople can't be saved unless they speak in tongues. That may be a tenet of the apostolic church denomination of which he was a part at that time, but  it runs  afoul of historical biblical orthodoxy. Where was the soul gospel/CCM press, other than awarding plaudits for his musicl innovations, to confront him on that point?

Not long after that trouble, his marriage dissolves amid his ex-wfe's allegations that he was involved in homosexual behavior. Neither has his playing "affirming" church events do anything to dispel any untoward allegations. Were that not enough, at least one critic of Tonex's ultra-contemporary aesthetic inspired a less-than-wholesomely worded retort from the subject of that criticism. Of course, that retort would circulate on the Internet among all interested parties wanting an earful.

It's with this baggage that Tonex tests the waters of greater general market acceptance (hence the switch from Zomba's gospel-centric Verity imprint). As to what degree said baggage should be a prism through which one should listen to Unspoken. Thankfully, it's not the only intrigue the album provides. 

As a slab of progressive soul music, Unspoken continues to hold Tonex's position as a probable genius in his field. It starts strong with three up tempo bangers that draw inspiration from his fellow retro-neuvo producers such as Timbaland and Pharrell Williams, with enough soul gospel and African folk conceits to distinguish Tonex from the pack. The opener, "Fiyah," likewise resembles some early '90s Prince. 

Slow numbers suit him well, too. In that mode he broaches man-woman love on "Love Me 4 Me," but the real standout is arguably the titular tune. Textually somewhere between what sounds like gut-level honest catharsis and the beginning of a martyr complex, one may wonder why his prayer request to the church body remains unspoken. The vaguely confessional vibe concludes the album with the Funkadelic/Sly Stone synth'n'metal workout "Face Down."  

That mystery's not the only thing that surprises here, either. He puts his own spin on house/trance danceability on ""When I Call" and gets into fuses Parliment-esque future funk on the oddly autobiographical "Wired." You've neither never heard "achoo!"/"bless you!" as a freaky gospel call-and-response until you've caught "Sneeze."  The arguable standout here, however is first single "Blend." At once lyrically amorphous yet specific, sonically sparse though fulsome, it seems to encapsulate the weirdness and apparent contradictions in his artistry, acceptance among the various communities he wants to embrace his music. Should Tonex be taken as a gospel artist who continues to push the stylistic envelope or an inspirational urban pop singer whose inspiration pretty well comes from Christian text and enculturation.

I wanted to query him to that effect, but it seems he only accepts letters through his MySpace account from people he's already befriended.To befriend him there, you must either know his email address or last name. And for whatever reason, he's not claiming Williams as the latter. 

And the controversy continues...
 
Jamie Lee Rake 
 
As a general market gospel album:
As gospel market album:  
 
 

 
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