Unless you're either British or an expert in neo-soul fiddling, you probably haven't yet heard of this wildly innovative 26-year-old singer and violinist. Toliver has been generating buzz in the U.K. since Adele called him her new favorite artist in 2009. But his unique mix of classical, folk, and soul is poised to win a wider audience this month with the release of his debut album, Land of CanAan.
Though the gentle violin strains and R&B-inflected vocals go down easy, they were born from struggle, Toliver says. "Being an African-American male and also being homosexual, I'm using adversity as a form of inspiration." The Daytona Beach, Florida, native, who was educated in both a Baptist church choir and conservatories, has had his share of it.
In 2007, as a 20-year-old music student, Toliver came to New York to visit a friend, who didn't answer his calls when he arrived. So he started busking on the streets of Brooklyn and unexpectedly earned $400 the first day, which he spent on winter boots. "It was freezing, and I wasn't equipped," he says. Toliver soon quit school and fell in with the Williamsburg music scene, which led to session work on Grizzly Bear's Veckatimest and a touring gig as a backup musician. That eventually brought him to London, where he has been playing solo concerts and amassing influential admirers. Whatever happens next, Toliver's ready: "When you have a classical foundation," he says, "there really shouldn't be any fear."
Check out his 14 favorite tracks:
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