In a crowd, he’d be easy to spot: He’s the one standing just apart from the pack, inquisitive and meditative, his quiet interrupted by his own deafening thoughts. And, oh yeah: He’d be the one discreetly observing YOU.
That’s who Keite Young is, a zealous voyeur awestruck by the parade of humanity called life. The burning interpretation of his sensitive, poignant annotations comes out in, as he wryly puts it, The Wash--which, in this case, is his music.
During The Rise and Fall of Keite Young, his debut Hidden Beach CD, the 29 year-old singer, songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist channels the musical passion and adventure of Al Green, Muddy Waters, Sly Stone and the Beatles to artfully create his own singular, dynamic space of storied, gospel-tinged soul (the organ-tempered “Pray;” the barn-burning “Time”), ethereal ballads and mids (the sanctifying, churchy “E.N.S.;” the tender, acoustic “The Way That U Love Me;” the exotic, bohemic “The Shine;” cautionary “Masks;” layered, melodic “U Got It”) and unrelenting live rock and funkified grooves (“Hey Joy…” and “Pressure”).
While producer Steve Harvey directed three tracks—the sweet, harmony-laden “If We Were Alone,” featuring N’dambi, the insistent “thinkuboutmi” and the barn burner “Time”—and Waymon Tisdale helmed the reassuring “Alright,” The Rise and Fall of Keite Young, is a compelling amalgamation of inspired musicianship and singing from the soul. And it is one man’s intuitive musical vision, literally: “A lot of songs come to me as mini movies in my head,” says Young. “In the studio, I get in front of a microphone, and the lyrics just come.”
Young cleverly chronicles life’s yin and yang--the good and the bad, sanctified and irreverent. He lives it: A young man, he often exudes the wistful contemplation of an old soul; a loner, his humble ambition is to communicate to the masses; an ordained minister since age 15, Young makes music that often stirs both the spirit and flesh. It is an uncanny duality personified by the very title of his CD. “There are lots of twists and turns between the two points of rise and fall,” he says. “I wanted the title to reflect the journey.”
Born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas, Young’s dichotomy is rooted in a large family ruled by spirituality and music. “Anytime my family gets together, we sing and somebody hears from God,” he says. Young’s grandmother was devoutly spiritual; meanwhile, his grandfather was a blues singer who performed under the moniker ‘Big Daddy Young’.
Likewise, Carrie Collins, Young’s mother, while a singer renown in local gospel music circles, was also a lover of Parliament/Funkadelic, Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye and Prince. She shared this music with her son, as enthralled by those secular sounds as he was enamored with the church’s Men’s Chorus, which performed every fourth Sunday at church.
“Man, those mature, gritty, squalling voices!” Young fondly recalls. “I used to sing until my vocal chords bled, thinking that would give me that sound. I loved how they sounded.”
His mother and Dalon Collins, her husband, both sang and toured in fellow Texan Kirk Franklin’s group The Family (later Young would meet his biological dad, who’d also turn out to be a singer and songwriter). Young himself sang lead vocal on “Let My People Go,” Franklin/Family’s contribution to 1998’s “The Prince of Egypt” soundtrack, and he joined his parents as a performer during Franklin’s Nu Nation Tour.
However, Young was also marching to another beat, one influenced by the classic recordings of artists as disparate as Little Richard, James Brown, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Wonder, George Clinton, Prince, Queen, AC/DC, Peter Gabriel and John Lee Hooker.
Now in his teens, the shy kid who listened more than he spoke, spent more time reading than on the playground and wrote his first song at age eight (“It was a spiritual song about love”) began to dig in, teaching himself to play keyboards, drums and eventually guitar.
The more home demos Young recorded the more proficient at the process he became. Occasionally he jammed with musician friends, but their lives seemed to get in the way of their musical ambitions. “No one seemed to want it like I did, ya know?” I worked alone out of necessity.” To give up everything else for the music.” he says. “I worked alone out of necessity.”
Digging the Beatles opened up his songwriting (“None of their songs are alike; that taught me how to stretch out”); listening to Prince, who routinely goes between falsetto and deeper tones and his dad, Dalon, encouraged him to experiment with different personalities vocally. “Dad, whose high tenor I’ve always loved, told me, ‘You know, you don’t have to sing in one style—you’ve been gifted to do whatever you want. You have the gift of versatility.’ Vocally, that advice opened a door.”
Dad opened another door, too, giving Young’s demo to musician, songwriter and producer Wayman Tisdale, who happens to be Collins’ uncle. Tisdale got the recording to Hidden Beach CEO Steve McKeever, who was impressed.
“The special thing about Steve is that he is a musician. He’s got keyboards in his office. What really sold me on Hidden Beach, though, was their intern program for students. I mean, to give back like that—wow.”
Young, who was finishing up recording as his wife prepared to give birth to their first child, sees this CD as more than simply the music he’s waited all his life to present. “It’s an extension of me, part of my evolution as a person that just happens to be musical. I hope people approach it with an open heart and mind.”
As Young narrates reflectively in an interlude on his CD during some gutbucket back-porch blues called “The Change:” “When I was young coming up, I used to sing this song by Sam Cooke, God rest his soul, called ‘A Change Is Gonna Come.’ Right now,” he valiantly announces, “My Change is here.”
Indeed. Listen up and bear witness to The Rise and Fall of Keite Young, current emphasis being the ‘rise.’ As for the ‘fall,’ don’t hold your breath.