If you’re late coming to one of the most musically provocative albums of the year, don’t feel bad. We’re late writing about it. To be fair, the album has only been out a few months and we spotlighted the genius that is Lawson in a First Listen a couple of months back. Lawson’s song, “Sleepwalkers,” has been showcased on our guest radio segment on SoulInterviews.com and most recent podcast, Radio, but since there is literally not enough ink in the world to be spilled proclaiming how amazing Jarrod Lawson’s self-titled debut is, we can’t help but feel we’ve not done nearly enough. Behind a deceptively understated and, dare we say, vanilla album cover lies one of richest, rhythmic, and musically dynamic projects released in 2014.
Hailing from the Pacific Northwest, the Portland, Oregon singer/songwriter was a musical child prodigy, taking to the drums early before settling on his dominant force, the keys, on which he’s dexterous enough to play both bassist and pianist thanks to those formative lessons in rhythm and thump. According to his bio, Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder are early influences, but what one hears in this self-penned and produced twelve-track collection bears little resemblance to either’s signature sound, though the spiritual and religious themes they too mined do dominate most of Lawson’s project, as does a taste for variance and live musicianship.
There is cheap jerseys from China enough variety in the lengthy arrangements of radio allergic compositions that range five to seven minutes long on average Center and usually boast several melodic transitions to prevent Lawson from being easily pegged. That there is GRP jazz (think: Corea, Grusin, Ritenour, Spyro Gyra, The Yellowjackets, etc.) all over Jarrod Lawson is obvious, but also present are plenty of funk, gospel, and soul to spare. Soul is the common dominator, overlaying every cut, as does a love for Take 6 level jazz and doo-wop harmonies that will burst out of the speakers from nowhere, punctuating a moment and disappearing, but never superfluously. That all of the layered Soul voices on each song are Lawson’s and done to technical perfection is a feat not seen from a blue-eyed soul artist since Lewis Taylor last graced us with his presence (Oh, how we miss thee).
All of Lawson’s technical prowess would mean little if he couldn’t discover a way to sew all of these cheap mlb jerseys elements together on songs whose length and complexity could be considered unwieldy and daunting for the average music listener, but he does through the simplest force in all of music: melody.
Whether on the dark lessons of “Sleepwalkers,” the hopeful light of “He’s There,” the 2011 unifying kumbaya of “Together We Stand” or any number of thinly disguised gospel numbers being played as straight-ahead jazz and soul, Lawson’s bag of melodies appears bottomless, trying different melody lines mid-song and bringing it back again, seamlessly and unhurriedly. A man more schooled in chords than I might the find less to marvel in, but Lawson’s chord work to this novice’s ears prove astonishing without being showy. Did we mention his harmonies are from heaven? All of which would collectively be impressive enough on its own if the man’s voice was merely average, but he sings like a lark that studied under Mamie Clark, mother and teacher of the Clark for Sisters.
A second tenor who often sings in a natural baritone and falsetto without tension, there is a confidence and ease in Lawson’s voice whether singing straight or running a scale. Usually a blue-eyed soul singer has some affectations in their attempts to “sound black,” but with Lawson what is soulful is natural and never less than pleasant to the ear, like a similarly unaffected Marc Broussard of New Orleans fame. If there is a song that does illustrate both his vocal talent and some kinship to Hathaway, it’s Lawson’s gospel blues piano ballad, “Everything I Need,” one that riffs off “I Got Plenty of Nothin’” in philosophical theme from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, here powerfully sung in a rock solid, rangy tenor set to hit the back row of a cheap mlb jerseys Broadway theater. The Afro-Latin jazz propulsions of “Sleepwalkers” Britain! also shows Lawson knows how to swing, scat, and ride a tempo without losing breath or place.
Lyrically, this is message music and that Lawson is a spiritual devotee and social justice teacher is evident in every song, even those that aren’t directly related to God, such as the “keep it in perspective” cut, “Walk In the Park.” Those who aren’t religiously minded shouldn’t be put off: the messages are more questioning, universal, and inspiring than rebuking and proselytizing, when not delivering full-on worship like “He’s There” or “Gotta Keep.” There also is enough here musically to recommend Jarrod Lawson to even the atheist among us, so beautiful are these renderings.
This is a musician’s album of flawless musicology that will neither be boxed in nor denied, no matter your persuasion. As Liv Warfield once reportedly commented, “Jarrod Lawson is The Truth.” And there is no denying the truth. Highly Recommended.
By L. Michael Gipson