Self-termed "electronic soul" artist Dornik Leigh is a multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, and producer who arrived during the first half of the 2010s as one of the most unique and promising voices in R&B. Introduced to music by his parents -- named Dorothy and Nick, hence his given name -- he started playing drums and got into a production as a youngster growing up in South London (specifically Croydon). In 2011, he formed TURTL, a band that included bassist Rocco Palladino (son of low-end master Pino Palladino). The two were among the members who also took gigs as part of Jessie Ware's backing band. Dornik stood out when he would duet, in place of Sampha, with Ware on "Valentine." Ware, also floored by some of Dornik's home recordings, returned the favor by encouraging Dornik's alliance with PMR, the Island-supported label to which she was signed. Dornik made his PMR debut in 2013 with "Something About You," a sweet midtempo single that fell somewhere between Frank Ocean and Musiq (Soulchild). Additional singles throughout 2014, highlighted by "On My Mind" and "Drive," prompted a wide swath of comparisons, including many to Michael Jackson, likely due to Dornik's unassuming yet assured vocals that recalled MJ's approach on songs like "I Can't Help It" and "Butterflies." Dornik's self-titled debut, featuring most of the singles that preceded it, followed in 2015.
© Andy Kellman /TiVo
© Andy Kellman /TiVo
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R&B - Released August 7, 2015 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.
Referring to Dornik Leigh's first album simply as promising would be downplaying it. It's a rare debut liable to provoke a mix of admiration and envy from contemporaries, and quite possibly a lengthy queue of prospective collaborators. One peer pleased to uplift Dornik was Jessie Ware, who employed the South London native as a performing drummer and duet partner, then helped him join the PMR roster. Across a two-year period, Dornik scattered a few singles that provoked Michael Jackson comparisons. The series began with the swaying synth-funk ballad "Something About You," where his assured but slightly bashful delivery recalled the MJ of "Butterflies" (which happened to be co-written by fellow U.K. artist Marsha Ambrosius). That initial taste is here, as are most of the supplemental doses that preceded the album. They all fit together for a fluid 40-minute set of sweet modern soul that, accessible as it is, falls to the left of mainstream R&B. Seemingly written with one object of affection in mind, and all about the expression of admiration rather than the detailing of exploits, the lyrics -- and their modest delivery -- evoke the pre-new jack swing era, when the major players in U.K. R&B included Derek Bramble, David Grant, Freeez, and Loose Ends. Dornik gets only a little help. Andrew "Pop" Wansel assists on "Stand in Your Line," a song that's starry-eyed like Elle Varner's "I Don't Care," though certain elements could be mistaken for the work of Rick James or Quadron's Robin Hannibal. "Shadow," a weightless highlight, was written with poet and author Laura Dockrill. Pharrell Williams couldn't be faulted for reacting to it by throwing something out of recognition and jealousy. The ten-percent of the album that isn't a sparkling slow jam or midtempo cut is a swift and uplifting jam that approximates a super session with Dâm-Funk, the-Dream, and 1984 Prince. It leads off -- both a sly fake-out and a hell of a way to open one of 2015's most pleasurable debuts. © Andy Kellman /TiVo
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Dornik in the magazine