Time To Share

EK 90930 (c) 2004 Sony Music Entertainment  

Toshi clearly shows how he has earned the accolades of his peers and why they all clamored to be a part of his project. The album’s opener sets the stage for the experience. "Beating Of My Heart” begins with a soft and peaceful, oceanic sound. Toshi's gentle murmurs and coos echo the instrumentation light synthesizers. The effects taper off and leave nothing but the sound of a steady and strong heartbeat. Under rich, harmonious backgrounds, Toshi croons: "You are more to me; you are the very beating of my heart."

With a sound that is part Maxwell, part D'Angelo, and yet 100% originally Toshi, he effortlessly commands not just the lyrics or the melody of soul music, but the very emotional essence of what makes it real. The instrumentation is sparse, allowing Toshi's voice to shine through. It is a set-up to a stellar album with a specific mood.

"You may not notice when you first listen," says Toshi. "But I use the word 'share' in almost every love song on this album. Which is why I titled my album Time To Share. I want people to share with me, feel the emotions I felt when I recorded the music. Underground hip-hop favorite and critical darling Mos Def shows up on the aptly titled "Living For Today,” an intricate mid-tempo that focuses on the importance of taking things day by day. It’s about settling in with a loved one and not worrying about what will happen the next day. Toshi approaches this track with confident command and his simple lyricism easily becomes complex thoughts. At a time when the love sentiment in music is reduced to physical attributes and material goods, it's enlightening and refreshing to hear Toshi and Mos Def's heartfelt missives on true love.

In addition to paying homage to modern soul music, Toshi brings it 80s style, with pop-inflected tunes that make it impossible to keep still. "Breaking through,” an album highlight is one of those '80s throwbacks. The melody and the message are all about that intense rush of emotion you feel the first time you know you are in love. The bass and keyboards beg for live interpretation it's a song made to start of a furious night of dancing on a promising first date.

Several years ago, Toshi made an acquaintance in the music industry that would prove to be one of his most valuable and treasured friendships. "I met Angie Stone during a writing session with Raphael Saddiq," says Toshi. "She helped me put into words a lot of the things I wanted to say and we had so much in common that we just instantly cliqued. We've been very good friends ever since."

That kinship is evidence on, "Hold Me Down," on which Angie and Toshi engage in a sweet duet. All differences aside, they are truly a natural pair. Musically, it’s a mellow, lush groove with similar backing vocals. And Angie's incredible vocals bring out the best Toshi's as well.

A full, intense introduction, replete with several backing vocals, starts off the meditative and pensive "Shadows of Your Love." There are subtle strings here and percussion here, layered with synthesized keys. The combination works as a wedding proposal, vows, and a wedding march, all in one achingly sweet ballad.

On "Neva Satisfied," a dramatic production, wind instruments compete for space with gospel-like choirs and a stuttering beat. Toshi wails about the pull of a woman that he can't escape. With a spoken-word style of singing, he tries out a falsetto that is accomplished and pristine.

After one listen to Toshi's emotionally charged album, there will be one obvious question. How? How does a man born and raised in one of the most homogenous countries in the world pick up the vocal styling that originated in the American Deep South? How? How can he master the feeling, the effect, and the essence?

You can ask. But be prepared. Toshi will sit back in his chair, run his fingers through his hair and sigh. He'll close his eyes for a minute and think. And then he may try to explain, in his halting Japanese accent. "Whenever people ask me that kind of question, it's very tough for me to answer because I have no reason. It's very natural. I listened to Marvin Gaye. At the same time, Outkast was listening to Marvin Gaye. At the same time George Michael listened to Marvin Gaye. Different countries same music. It motivated me the same ways that it motivated them. Music truly is universal. We can all understand each other through music."

Listen without prejudice. Surrender to the soul. Experience the wonder that is Toshi.