A soul singer hailing from Louisville, Kentucky, Otis Junior first came up as frontman for R&B/neo-soul band The Jesse Lees. In early 2016, he crossed paths with DJ/producer and Louisville native Dr. Dundiff, and the two clicked quickly. That year, they released a promising if uneven EP, 1 Moment 2 Another, through German label Jakarta Records (home to Ta-ku and Kaytranada, among others).
The duo released their first full-length, Hemispheres, on March 17 of this year. Their video for smooth-ass single “The Ballad” dropped a few weeks earlier; quite appropriately, on Valentine’s Day.
After some plaintive piano chords, the track proceeds with a tantalizing fade in/fade out, as if honing in on a weak radio signal (or buffering a bad stream). The syncopated fades are just enough to catch your ear, and then the bass drops in, Junior’s voice arrives, and everything is just right.
Lyrically, the track is quite meta: it’s a ballad in praise of another ballad. With a vocal richness reminiscent of John Legend, Junior sets the scene: he’s driving home at night, an unknown R&B tune comes on the radio, and hits him to his core: “In every little word/And every single beat/Every twist and turn/I hear a piece of me.”
It’s the kind of transcendent moment familiar to any music lover: A song hitting you so right that you suddenly feel an intimate familiarity with that voice on the radio; as if you’ve already told them your story and they’re simply singing it back to you.
Dr. Dundiff’s precision production balances live instrumentation with electronic touches. His work takes the tune through a variety of tempos and a cute interpolation of James Brown, layering on snatches of cello and brassy horns. The end result is exactly the sort of song you’d be happy to stumble across on the radio during a late-night drive.