William Topley is a deep-voiced British vocalist with heady literary influences and a taste for the bluesy sound of America's Deep South, as well as the Caribbean rhythms of Jamaican reggae. The leader of the Blessing for two early-'90s albums, Topley earned several fans in the American music industry, including MCA executive Luke Lewis. After Lewis became the president of Mercury Nashville, he signed Topley to a recording contract. Another admirer, longtime Muscle Shoals keyboard session man and producer Barry Beckett, was hired to oversee recording in Nashville for Topley's debut album Black River, released in early 1997. Mixed Blessing, which followed in 1998, exuded a passion for Southern black soul and a gritty country drawl.