DeRobert Adams, the phenomenal voice of G.E.D. Soul Records' house band DeRobert and the Half-Truths, spent New Year's Eve in the hospital with bronchitis compounded by the flu. Barely a week later, he's back on his feet, talking to the Scene by phone as he gets ready for work on one of the coldest days in years — and he's still one of the most cheerful guys around.
"There's something inside me that says I have a job to do other than just being a musician," says Adams, not referring to the pizza-delivery gig that pays his rent. "Every day that I open my eyes, I'm supposed to encourage people — every single person that comes in contact with me needs to be fortified in some way."
Since 2007, Adams and the rest of the G.E.D. Soul crew have been offering more than just tunes for fancy dancing to the Midstate: Their deeply funky grooves have been one crucial pillar in bringing the soul revival that's been bubbling around the nation home to Music City. The Half-Truths' new full-length, I'm Tryin', is the first fruit of a successful Kickstarter campaign, organized last spring to fund a trio of releases and help G.E.D. reach the next level on its climb to financial self-sufficiency. The LP represents new artistic achievements for the band, as well.
Much of the sound of their first album, 2010's Soul in a Digital World, remains intact, building on the same sweet spot between the raw, gospel-infused shout of Memphis and Muscle Shoals, the lush croon of Philadelphia and the cool assurance and exotic touches of the West Coast. This time out, synthesizers and organs materialize periodically next to the familiar horn arrangements and wah-drenched guitar lines. The influence of reggae and dub filters in, softening the bass tone here, cranking up the spring reverb and tape delay there, and tracks like "Get on It" and "Goin' Places" drift from the hi-fi like joint efforts of Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Lee "Scratch" Perry.
The songs, which explore troubled relationships and other challenges of making a living, are bookended by the title track in two parts — a vocal arrangement recalling a church service. Adams' voice stays front and center, bringing together power, presence and precision, a God-given talent nurtured by years spent deeply involved with the church, musical theater and classical training. For I'm Tryin', Adams and producer-engineer Nick DeVan — also G.E.D. Soul Records' co-founder and the Half-Truths' drummer — broke with tradition, recording the band in layers from the rhythm section up, trading the live-in-the-studio feel for an opportunity to focus in on each element.
"For as long as I've been singing, I have grown so much being a recording artist," explains Adams. "The more I got into working in the studio, the more it was like, 'Oh man, I've got to start all the way over from the beginning!' [Working one-on-one] with Nick was like watching myself taking lessons. It was like watching my teacher pull something new out of me that I didn't know I could do."
For this LP, DeRobert and the Half-Truths' audience is expanded for the first time by the Kickstarter project itself, as well as the publicist they were able to afford as a result of it. Altering their formula even a little bit might not at first seem like the wisest strategy. But fans of Soul in a Digital World won't have any trouble recognizing the sound, and they'll be rewarded with something they really want to see on a sophomore record, whether they know it or not. Something you really, really don't see enough of these days: a band taking some risks, and coming out sounding even better than before.
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