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Be 'Wells': Newcomer Tyrone makes a big splash
Damara Popoola
Posted: 1/23/07

There are high expectations for any artist who sells out a venue, let alone an unassuming singer-songwriter whose major label debut has yet to reach stores. Fortunately, Spokane, Wash. native Tyrone Wells managed to exceed those expectations at his show Saturday night at the El Rey Theatre.

The youngest of five, Wells has been performing solo since 2000, but always knew that music was something he would do.

"As the baby of the family and the only boy, I got a lot of adoration from my sisters, and so I think it made sense for me to seek a career where I received adoration," Wells said. "I get that when I play music."

His sound is a melding of mainstream pop, old-school soul and sincerity that shines brightest in his live performances. Recently signed to Universal Republic Records, Wells' major label debut Hold On hits stores Feb. 6. While the CD is a pleasant mixture of pop-driven love songs peppered with a handful of soul-infused tracks, nothing does him justice quite like his live show.

Wells opened the show with "Need," an earnest entreaty of a love song that woke up the packed crowd that had been waiting more than three hours for his set. Songs like "Need," "Hold On," and "Falling," showcased Wells' romantic streak and established him as a contender for radio stations such as Los Angeles' Star 98.7 FM.

The album's first single "What Are We Fighting For?" is a pulsing rock anthem with a gospel vibe that encourages love in the place of violence and strife.

Wells said his song is not "a hit on the military … I am saying that I wish that it wasn't this way."

Wells' range as an artist particularly stood out when he sang "Jealous Man," a dark but intriguing track that proved his edge as he growled the song out beneath the lights. This song was a conscious departure from his normal style.

"I was writing a bunch of hopeless romantic type stuff … and I was just thinking, 'I'm such a pansy,'" Wells said.

At the other end of the spectrum are the catchy "Baby Don't You Change" and the rock-tinged funk of "Sugar So Sweet," which clarified the soul that runs deep in Wells' oeuvre.

Both songs got fans moving and set a buoyant tone for the rest of the show. Those two tracks stand out from others on the album and give Wells a large push into the blue-eyed soul category, which isn't surprising considering the influences he claims.

"If you could imagine James Taylor and Stevie Wonder had a baby boy, I would love to be that baby boy stylistically," Wells said.

Those influences also shone through in the series of covers that Wells performed. His take on Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine" was sufficiently somber and seemed to be a crowd favorite.

Also, toward the end of his hour and a half set, Wells surprised everyone with a frenzied medley of covers consisting of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition," Michael Jackson's "Rock With You," Lauryn Hill's "Doo Wop (That Thing)," and Mary J. Blige's "Family Affair." Especially engaging was his effortless rendition of the first verse of "Doo Wop" which could give him a healthy dose of street cred in hip-hop circles.

Wells sang all but one song from his forthcoming album, and most fans seemed to favor the calm simplicity of his ballads. "Sea Breeze," an airy and breathless number, moved most in the audience to sing along.

Another obvious favorite was "Dream Like New York", a melodic, idealistic anthem that begs listeners to dream "as high as the skyline" and "aim for the stars".

While his new album includes accompaniment by a full band, Wells has three other independently released albums that were primarily acoustic endeavors, and he peppered the show Saturday with a handful of acoustic performances.

One example was "Looking At Her Face," a dedication to his wife, accompanied with only guitar and cello, which focused the attention on Wells' touching lyrics and vocals.

In traditional singer-songwriter fashion, Wells' closing number, "When All is Said and Done" was also acoustic, and the song's mournful, almost dirge-like lyrics were aptly suited for that sort of pared-down treatment.

Ultimately, Wells is a performer whose easygoing stage presence, honesty and vocal prowess can only be truly appreciated by seeing him perform live. While his new album may be the key to achieving mainstream success, his live shows seem to be the key to captivating new fans.

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Hold On will be in stores Feb. 6. While a date has not been set, he plans to return to Los Angeles for another show in March.