Though Conya Doss's neo-soul debut couldn't sound more different from the Black Keys' blues-rock breakthrough, The Big Come Up, the two are far and away the most exciting local records of the year for surprisingly similar reasons: Not only do they fit snugly into the hottest neotraditional styles going; they distinguish themselves from the national competition by interpreting those styles as straight as possible.
But that's also where their obvious differences come home to roost. While the Black Keys honor old rural blues even more faithfully than the White Stripes or Jon Spencer Blues Explosion do, the audacity of the Keys' imitation also proves that these white boys are consummate DIY punks. Doss, on the other hand, is nothing more or less than a consummate professional -- which is to say a team player. If her first-class album is a deferential tribute to smooth, midtempo soul styles past and present, it's also a tribute to the local talent that supports her.
Foremost among that talent is established national hitmaker Edwin "Tony" Nichols. Without his warm, spacious, and imaginative production, it's doubtful Doss, a teacher of developmentally disabled children, would get the chance to shine outside the classroom. But with his help, Doss's subtle singing, songwriting, and vocal arranging stand out on almost every track. After running through neo-soul moves on numbers like "Coffee," Doss slips into more mainstream soul waters with songs like "That's Not Love," a slow jam worthy of prime Mary J. Blige. Without dropping a single hip-hop beat or pop move, Doss proves herself the equal of any hometown boy or girl in memory.