To pin the R&B label on Land of CanAan would miss what Marques Toliver’s first album captures: a junction of soul and classical sensibility, where a violinist with a killer vocal shakes up both genres.
Toliver has an ear for epic arrangements and a fiddler’s arm fit to spark flames. Here his rapid bow often foreshadows chaos, an unusual framework for a collection of love songs. But with intensity comes grace, and Toliver’s classically trained intuition balances much of his debut’s instrumental heft. Indeed, he handles the heavy lifting, dropping harp and piano and xylophone into beauties that revive elements of Philadelphia soul (“Try Your Best”) and Motown (“Control”). The record’s soothing moments are jarred by unsettling ones, though, and only after its intermission, “Repetition,” does Land of CanAan begin to ease into a relaxing listen.
Toliver’s lyrics lean more on prose than poetry, and aren’t yet in line with his ingenuity as an arranger and a performer. For years he hacked it as a busker on New York’s streets, before moving to London, where his 2011 EP impressed the hell out of Adele and Paul McCartney. His command of strings and stamina makes for a good marriage. But so far, Toliver’s potential edges out his product.