Seven years ago, Jua Howard was making something of a name for himself in neo-soul circles, crooning in velvety tenor tones reminiscent of Luther Vandross and Donny Hathaway in clubs from New York City to London. Anticipation, his 2007 self-released debut CD of mostly original ballads, was picking up play on smooth-jazz and R&B stations.

Yet Jua, who uses only his first name professionally (it’s Swahili for “sun”), was having second thoughts about his musical direction. “I got tired of what I was doing,” the Chicago-born singer says. “With the neo-soul scene, everything started sounding the same.”

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