Singer-songwriter Charles Miller Jr. (aka Charles Emanuel) and his soul-infused pop-rock have been a local mainstay since moving to Rochester from St. Kitts in the Caribbean in 2013. But familiar as Though in-the-know fans are with the satin-tongued musician and his previous intimate recordings, 2016’s “The Healing Process” and 2018’s “Breathe,” Emanuel’s star quality seems relatively unrecognized compared to the depth of his talent.
Emanuel’s self-produced album, “Freedom,” slated for August 12, is the culmination where his confident personality and fluid songwriting talent collide. The result is a seven-song R&B and soul-defining artist-defining suite that could be his breakthrough work.
Throughout the album, the artist retains the earnestness and generosity of spirit that made his earlier music so appealing. But on “Freedom,” Emanuel turns to heavy hip-hop beats and rich cameos from Rochester-area musicians to enrich the soundscape. Judah Sealy’s smooth-jazz saxophone punctuates the palpable heartache of the opening track “Let You Go.” Additional vocals from Taurus Savant help turn up the heat with the romantic “Love on Fire” plea.
Channeling Stevie Wonder, Emanuel’s sultry vocal performance on “Back2Me” makes the song a gem. But the upbeat ’90s dance tune was a team effort, co-written by Savant and Avis Reese, one of Danielle Ponder’s main collaborators.
The title track is an ode to personal empowerment and assertiveness, with the music building on the album’s recurring combination of melismatic R&B melodies and bass-heavy hip-hop beats.
Another standout from the album is “Every Shade of Blue”, a stunning duet with Cammy Enaharo in which a couple affirms their love for each other in difficult times: “I know what you’ve been through / Your every shade of blue.” This acoustic guitar song is a stylistic anomaly on the album, but that’s no surprise given that Emanuel shares writing credits with Enaharo and production credits with Enaharo and Ben Morey.
The album ends with the sunny “All My Love”, as Emanuel uses a reggae-tinged vocal to celebrate a blossoming relationship with a statement of devotion.
“Freedom” has the feeling of an artist coming out of his shell. The album is full of danceable, outgoing music that serves as the perfect vehicle for Emanuel’s positive outpourings of love – both for himself and for others.
Daniel J. Kushner is CITY’s art editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.