Gabriel Royal

Soreng Theater
Friday, September 28, 2018 at 8 pm
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Hult Presents

Gabriel Royal got his start as a busker on the New York City subway, but the Oklahoma-born musician has emerged as trailblazing talent with inimitable style and enviable range. He’s played at NYC’s top performing venues, including Poisson Rouge and Blue Note Jazz Club; played to sold-out crowds in countries around the world; and collaborated with some of the industry’s most in-demand names, including the Beyoncé-endorsed music video director Blake Farber. Known for his soaring vocals, hum-along melodies, and lush arrangements, Royal, a classically trained musician, is among a select number of artists combining cello and voice. And if his sophomore effort, Miss Once in a Blue Moon is any indication, it’s a marriage that not only works— it sings.

Raised on a jazzy diet of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Herbie Hancock, Royal, who first got serious about music as a player in his high school orchestra, is no stranger to improvisation. As a teenager, he taught himself piano and the drums, and supplemented his orchestral training with basement jam sessions and stints in extracurricular bands.

“I had a lot of creative friends as a kid,” says Royal. “We’d be at school, learning music theory and rehearsing Dvořák by day, and making our own music, listening to Outkast by night.”

Royal’s spirit of playfulness and improvisation informed his first album, a self-titled project that was released in 2016 and written mostly underground.

“Most of my first album I wrote while busking on the subway. I was just jamming, testing out new material and seeing how people responded,” says the Brooklyn-based artist, who, when he’s not composing or performing, teaches music at elementary and junior high schools in New York City.

And despite its humble beginnings, the album established Royal as a singer-songwriter with extraordinary sensitivity and creative intuition. Contemplating themes of love and loss, of the ups and downs of relationships, songs like Say It’s Right and Remember Us speak to Royal’s emotional depth—and his penchant for romance.

“Morning baby, I see the sunlight in your eyes. Stuck in a sweet dream, don’t want to wake up, wake up,” Royal sings in Morning Baby, a bright, toe-tapping track inspired by a former lover on a beautiful spring day.

The theme of romantic love endures in Miss Once in a Blue Moon, whose title takes its cues from a noncommittal ex.

“I’m always thinking about love— what happened to me last year and what could happen to me tonight,” says Royal. “And my music has always been a vehicle for emotional discovery.”

“Degoba”—a plea from a wistful lover to his former partner— is especially powerful and emblematic of Royal’s rich arrangements and raw, heartfelt lyricism (“As the days go by, don’t forget the times, back when we were something, when you were mine”).

But for all its tenderness, Miss Once in A Blue Moon—which Royal wrote over a feverish period of six months— is also a bold coming-out from an artist the Huffington Post once dubbed “Brooklyn’s best busker.”

Setting the tone for the album is “C Major Prelude,” a sweeping, soulful ballad in which Royal’s voice fades in and out of the background as the song builds. Recorded without a metronome, it’s a reminder of Royal’s fearless, rule-breaking approach—a nod to his busking days.

“My take on songwriting is somewhat unconventional,” he says. “I recorded the album’s intro without a click track because I wanted something that was fluid, something that breathes.”

And despite the album’s more sophisticated sound, there are plenty of crowd-pleasers, as well. “Been a Minute,” for example, is a snappy, anthem-like number with an eminently catchy chorus that you can’t help but sing along to.

“It’s cliché but true that I want people to listen to my music and love it,” says Royal. “I want them to dance, I want them to think it’s pretty, and I want them to find themselves in it.”

Miss Once in A Blue Moon was recorded at Landau Studios and produced by Matthew Young. It’s scheduled for national release on September 3, 2018.

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