Women in Music 2016

Babyface, Tyrese Apprentice Leon Timbo Relays 'What Love's All About'

Daniel Ortize/Courtesy Riverphlo Entertainment
Leon Timbo

Have music, will travel. That’s been Leon Timbo’s mantra for the last 10 years. Mapping out his own version of the time-honored chitlin circuit, the singer/songwriter/musician has journeyed coast-to-coast and beyond to build a fan base through live performances and live independent CDs.

“That’s where my heartbeat has been, bouncing back and forth from city to city,” says Timbo, who divides his off-road time between Chicago and Atlanta. “It’s been that type of movement that has built my sound, struggles and triumphs, if you will.”

Over the last year, Timbo has taken his heartbeat into the studio to complete his latest triumph: his official album debut, What Love’s All About. Being released Friday (Aug. 26) through Riverphlo Entertainment/e-One, the project is ostensibly about romantic and spiritual love. But it also signals the relationship that Timbo wants to nurture and sustain with core -- and new -- fans.

Timbo’s introductory step in that direction is lead single “You’re My Darling.” The funky mid-tempo perfectly captures the exhilarating whoosh that comes with the beginnings of a romantic relationship. Listen below.

​“The song says I’m blown away that you’ve chosen to be here with me. And since you have, let me tell you about the future we’re going to have,” explains Timbo, who plays guitar and counts Marvin Gaye as his major influence. “That’s synonymous with the whole record and wanting listeners to know I want to be the sound canvas to their lives.”

What Love’s All About brims with a bubbling concoction of everything from R&B, funk, gospel and reggae to dance/techno, rock and pop. In addition to the single, repeat-worthy songs include the title track, “Don’t Call,” “The Weekend” and “A Thousand Songs.” The through line linking the 14-track set: what producer and Riverphlo owner Luther “Mano” Hanes terms “transparent soul.”

“In a time where we have lost so many musical architects and legendary artists, Leon helps remind us why we love the music of the past,” says Hanes who has worked with Ledisi, Michelle Williams and Israel Houghton. “As a songwriter, he is the definition of a storyteller with an ability to make simple phrases seem complex and complex phrases seem simple.”

To be completely transparent, What Love’s All About isn’t Timbo’s first brush with releasing a studio album. Back in 2005, the Jacksonville, Florida, native and son of two pastors released his actual first studio album, Soul Sessions. But he ultimately disavowed the album after deciding it truly didn’t represent who he was artistically. So he went on the road again.

During one junket, Timbo performed at Bishop T.D. Jakes’ The Potter’s House Church in Dallas. In the house was singer/actor Tyrese, who asked Timbo to open for him that very night at the House of Blues. From there, Tyrese introduced Timbo to Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, who signed him to his Soda Pop imprint with Island Def Jam.

Timbo credits Tyrese for teaching him invaluable lessons about vocal technique and songwriting. “Tyrese taught me how to articulate the energy I feel live onstage in the studio on tape,” he explains. “I’m talking the sound, atmosphere, smoke, whatever you feel that speaks to the passion of the moment.”

For his part Edmonds, whom Timbo also opened for on the road, gave the artist deeper insight lyrically. Recalls Timbo, “I would show Babyface lyrics. He would … then break them down to the simplest form. ‘Is this the best way we can say this?’ He completely blew me away.”

Owing to corporate changes at Island Def Jam, Timbo’s Soda Pop album was never released. The artist soon found himself back under Tyrese’s wing and at work on another album. Lured by the road yet again, Timbo later met Hanes through mutual friend/guitarist Rick Watford.

Though it’s been a circuitous route to What Love’s All About, Timbo appreciates all the time and effort it’s taken to craft an album that fully reflects who he is. “

“The first album can be the longest you take to write,” he says with a laugh. “But it’s allowed me the chance to get naked about my experiences with love personally, interpersonally and in the world. I will never regret the ebb and flow of this process.”