Phonte Coleman and Nicolay Rook began The Foreign Exchange, as the name suggests, as an international file swap, with the Carolina-raised Coleman and the Dutch Rook building suave soul music through the Internet. But in the last several years, Rook has moved to Wilmington, Coleman has left Little Brother and the pair has made The Foreign Exchange a full-time, full-regalia operation. They’ve received a Grammy nomination, consistent critical kudos and, appropriately, a dedicated and worldwide fan base. In return for inviting them to our cities, they’ve invited us into the studio on Dear Friends. Recorded this past February at Durham’s Sound Pure Studios in front of an audience of 40 fortunate fans, the CD/ DVD package is an intimate, scaled-down performance of several selections from The Foreign Exchange’s entire catalog, exemplifying the magic that can happen when a band handles its music and career with care.

Whether you watch or listen first, you may notice that longtime F.E. vocal force Yahzarah is missing from the evening’s affair. (She’s also not listed anymore as an official artist on F.E.’s website). Instead, we get Raleigh singer/ songwriter Jeanne Jolly and frequent collaborator and solo artist Sy Smith as the resident female vocalists. Coleman and Jolly perform Authenticity‘s tender country duet “Laughing At Your Plans” to perfection, right before a hilarious honky-tonk rendition of Leave It All Behind‘s lead single, “Daykeeper.” After Coleman’s soul-twang and Smith’s background “yee-haws” tail off, the song takes on a different spinthis time Coleman leading it into a “chopped and screwed” comedic remix. Yahzarah’s absence, then, spurs new looks from the dynamic Exchange.

After all, whether he’s goofin’, rappin’ or singin’, Coleman is a proven master of ceremonies and a master of finding the best female voices to bounce melodies off. He and Rook do that again on the two non-live tracks included at the end of Dear Friends. Jeanne Jolly’s Nicolay-produced ballad “Steal Away” and Coleman’s high-pursuit love song “All the Kisses”featuring members of Los Angeles all-girl soul trio KINGboth stun. Once again, these are gifts to be exchanged.

Corrections (Aug. 18, 2011): The text has been amended to fix these errors: Nicolay Rook is Dutch, not Danish. Jeanne Jolly is not on Authenticity; Chantae Cann is the singer on “Laughing At Your Plans” on that album. The “Daykeeper” version on Dear Friends is Phonte Coleman and Sy Smith, not Jeanne Jolly.