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Fantastic NegritoFantastic Negrito
Album: The Last Days Of Oakland
Label: Blackball Universe
Tracks: 10

Xavier's story to prominence is a real rags to riches tale of how music can transform people's lives.

He has had an amazing 18 months since winning the 2015 Tiny Desk video contest run the NPR - the American equivalent of BBC Radio - coming out on top of 7,000 other entries.

He started off running with gangs in Oakland, California but followed his musical roots, first busking and then getting signed up by Prince's management early in the 1990's. It all seemed to be in place.

An album was released but in 1999 he was involved in a car crash which left him with a fractured skull, broken limbs and a coma for three weeks.

The road to recovery was slow but he reinvented himself as Fantastic Negrito, combining earthy roots rhythms with up-to-the minute songs.

He's just completed a tour of the UK and Europe and after releasing a tasty EP last year we now have his new album, The Last Days of Oakland.

Working Poor is the new single from the alum, with its infectious beat and throbbing bass lines, it's a delicious melange of vocals and instrumentation - swirls of organ and slide guitar combing to great affect.

About a Bird is a slower tune but nonetheless effective, with excellent vocals and harmonies - the song has plenty of room to breathe.

Scary Woman shows what Mr Negrito is all about - tremendous vocals, tinkling piano, and up-tempo rhythm, all held together with that throbbing bass.

The Nigga Song is a back to basics song, harking back to those old field hollers. The one thing that strikes you about this whole album is the level of production - in many ways it reminds me of early Prince albums but with that extra level of gospel/blues thrown in for good measure.

In the Pines is another tightly worked slow song. The bass holds it all together as Negrito does his stuff, there are dashes of slide guitar and piano, but it's the vocals that shine here - electrifying. Excellent stuff.

The unambiguous Hump Through the Winter is a hard-edged song, with more guitar higher in the mix, driven along by superb bass and drums.

Lost in a Crowd is the rawest song on the album. You can imagine being in the cotton fields, the ghost of Leadbelly is looking down on this boy, the staccato vocals are driven by more excellent bass and drums, the song features an excellent middle-eight and there's some sweet organ added to the mix. One of the album's highlights.

The Worst is another organ-fuelled romp, imagine Sly and Family Stone in their pomp. Rant Rushmore is a slower thoughtful song, beautifully produced, with a more riff-driven backbone but the vocals are once again at the top of the mix. A lovely song. Amen to that.

The album is brought to a conclusion with a slow love song, Nothing Without You. It is a beautiful song, featuring excellent vocals and backing vocals. You can feel Negrito's passion loud and clear.

Yes this is one hell of an album. Passion and poise in great measures with excellent musicianship and production throughout. What's not to like?

Fantastic Negrito ? You'd better believe it!

John Knighton