Avant's new album, "The Letter," delivers yet another batch of the soft-edged R&B he's been known for since his 2000 debut, "My Thoughts." But following the singer's lengthy stint on Magic Johnson's MCA/Geffen imprint and a one-off in 2008 with Capitol, "The Letter" will arrive Dec. 7 courtesy of a fresh carrier: Verve Forecast.
"I wanted to get with someone who was moving in the R&B field," Avant says of the label, which in addition to its jazz offerings has released well-regarded discs by Ledisi and Labelle and will issue a new album by Sunshine Anderson this year. "I felt like Verve had a strong team and was ready to go in the same direction I was."
"At its core Verve is about great singers," label senior VP/GM Nate Herr says. "That's how the label began, with Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday. And Avant fits into that tradition of just being a terrific singer."
Avant's manager, Jerry "Big Jay" Woodard, says the label's recent success in the urban AC realm was instrumental in his and his client's decision to sign with Verve.
"But it's definitely about them exposing him to new audiences, too," Woodard adds. "They understand he's not just a one-dimensional artist. He can do a song like 'Read Your Mind' [from 2003's "Private Room"], then he can cover 'Sailing' by Christopher Cross [as on 2008's "Avant"]. They're looking to expand his brand into other genres."
Verve's first goal, Herr says, is targeting the adult R&B consumer. The new album's lead single, "Kiss Goodbye," earned most-added honors at urban AC radio its first week out. Herr says he expects to have a top 10 track by December, at which point the label will focus on mainstream urban outlets. (This week "Kiss Goodbye" is No. 24 on Billboard's Adult R&B chart.)
Additionally, Herr says, the "Kiss Goodbye" video was just serviced by Urban Beauty Collective to more than 12,000 salons, where it will play throughout November and December. Street teams are also at work in New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Washington, D.C.-markets Herr identifies as Avant's strongest. Listening parties are also scheduled with BET's Centric, Rhapsody, iLike, Vibe, Essence, BlackPlanet and Clear Channel, and Herr says Verve is attempting to secure a full-album premiere on MySpace.
Woodard says his and Avant's experience with Capitol on "Avant" was as good as it could have been, given the transitional period the label was going through at the time.
"Ronnie Johnson, the head of urban there, had just passed away, and Terra Firma was buying EMI," Woodard says. "We got caught up in the new system." According to Nielsen SoundScan, "Avant" has sold 162,000 copies. The singer's best seller is 2000's "My Thoughts," at 1.1 million.
"I have no bitter thoughts about Capitol," Avant says. "But I'm an older artist; this is my sixth album. So I don't really have time for someone to try to figure out how to work with me or me with them. It's more like, 'Let's make it happen right now.' "