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(Wildflower 1328 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 5/19/2010)
Once in a while, an artist or group will make an impressive debut seemingly fully-formed. Last week's album by the band Harper Blynn is a good example. But that's generally the exception. More often than not, the notable recordings generally emerge from the ones with the experience, often from those who have worked behind the scenes or as member of the, if you will, supporting cast.
This week we have the latest release by a veteran artist, who is hardly a household name, but has been a presence on the music scene for quite some time. It's Kenny White, whose new recording is called Comfort in the Static.
Kenny White started writing music at age eight, when he offered up one of his own compositions during a piano lesson. He has been on the New York studio scene for several years, writing and producing hundreds of commercials, and working with some of the artists who became involved with those commercials, people from Linda Ronstadt to Aaron Neville. White has also had long-running collaborations with Shawn Colvin and Marc Cohn, having produced or appeared prominently on their hit recordings. He also produced CDs for Peter Wolf, formerly of the J. Geils Band. More recently, he has been touring with folk legend Judy Collins, who signed him to her record label Wildflower Records, and released Comfort in the Static and its 2005 predecessor Symphony in 16 Bars. White's first full release was called The Uninvited Guest back in 2002 which we featured on this review series.
White, being a pianist, rather than a guitarist, brings that kind of slightly jazzy sensibility to his songs along the lines of Randy Newman, with whom he can sometimes share a slightly jaundiced viewpoint. But White also can be more romantic, and he has a much wider vocal range. To me his singing is often reminiscent of jazz pianist and vocalist Dave Frishberg. For this CD he enlists primarily Boston area musicians, including guitarist Duke Levine, bassist Marty Ballou and drummer Shawn Pelton. There is some additional production with a small string section, horns and backing vocalists. But the arrangements remain tasteful, often with a fairly intimate sound, despite the added players.
White addresses a number of lyrical topics on the CD, from reminiscences to missing one's significant other to a tongue-in-cheek look at the music business.
The CD opens with a song called Useless Bay, named after a shallow bay in Puget Sound, in Washington State. The bluesy song uses the geographical setting as the background for a kind of philosophical love song. <<>>
A track called Last Night uses an incorrect weather forecast as the basis for some more introspection. <<>>
More upbeat, and with a bit of retro-pop sound, is the song called Please. It's nicely done with lyrics White implies are for a friend who passed away. <<>>
One of the CD's highlights is Out of My Element. It's a kind of complicated love song featuring great writing both lyrically and musically. <<>>
White pays tribute to the Tin Pan Alley songwriting style on a very nice ballad called What Good Would That Do Me Now. He gets it right. <<>>
The state of the world is addressed on a piece named Carry You Home, about which White says he "offers absolutely no solution." But the wordy song combines a good groove with some more exemplary writing. <<>>
White takes on the pop music stardom machine on Gotta Sing High, with tips on how to achieve fame and fortune. <<>>
White's jazzy side comes out on another of the CD's best tracks, She's Coming on Saturday. White describes the song in his notes as "love or something like it through the eyes of the fully dysfunctional." <<>>
Kenny White's new CD Comfort in the Static is another fine release from one of those figures in the music business who has had a long career in a supporting capacity. His writing is first-class, both musically and lyrically, and he's an appealing vocalist. He is joined by a bunch of fine supporting musicians, and his production is very tasteful, using the added elements like the string section and the backing vocalists with restraint. The result is one of those CDs from which you can get something more each time you listen.
Our grade for sound quality is close to an "A." All the elements of the mix are in the right place. White's vocals, with their distinctive sound are well-recorded, and the CD has better than average dynamic range. But sometimes the acoustic piano has a thin sound.
Singer-songwriter-pianists tend to have their own approach compared to the guitar-playing variety of the species. Kenny White's new CD -- his fifth if one counts an EP and a live release -- is a great example of the direction of piano-based artists, with sophisticated composing, a generally laid-back musical setting and great writing all around.
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