If you’ve read some of my other reviews, you may have
recognized that I like to listen to a wide variety of music – the
edgier, the better - from blues to R&B, straight-ahead
jazz to gospel, classical to folk, funk to soul, Motown to ‘60s
rock, big band swing to show tunes, Americana to world music.
And I like to be surprised, to discover something new and different. Maybe
you’re a little like me – I found contemporary
jazz in the 1980s through the R&B world of Al Jarreau and
George Benson. I loved their soulful, vocal virtuosity backed
by killer bands. As the decades have passed, contemporary
jazz has come to lean towards a smooth, instrumental (albeit
melodic) genre, led primarily by saxophone, guitar, or piano.
Once I put on this new album, Lookin’ For
A Change, from Joe McBride, I remembered
what I loved about the music of those early days in contemporary
jazz - really good R&B vocals! Imagine
my surprise to re-discover Joe McBride, the vocalist. This
man can sing !!! And he does so - on all 12 songs
- creatively interpreting recent pop and rock hits.
Now, if you just made up your mind to not like this album…hold
on a minute. Take a listen. It’ll blow you
away with its innovative, invigorating, familiar yet fresh,
cool treatments of these popular hits. Lookin’ For
A Change is change you can believe in!
There are 9 covers and three originals. What’s different
is he’s given them clever, R&B-oriented, jazzy vocal
arrangements accompanied by his extraordinary piano abilities
and backed by a superb, live, acoustic trio of guitarist Dan
Wilson, acoustic bassist Roger Hines, and drummer Elijah Gilmore.
Another departure from McBride’s usual fare, there’s
nothing electronic on this album.
The opening track is "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley.
McBride's surprising arrangement has plenty of the original’s
swagger. Amid some awesome piano playing, McBride’s
cool vocals swing; he lets loose playfully scatting as the
song fades to a close. The intriguing arrangement of
Vanessa Carlton's adult alternative hit, "1000 Miles," is
achingly beautiful, filled with deep longing. Once again,
McBride’s playing is magnificent, along with some impressive
upright bass time keeping from Roger Hines.
From 2001’s A Rush of Blood to the Head,
comes the Coldplay classic, “The Scientist.” McBride
brings vocals with a tender elegance amid sweeping piano stylings. In
this bluesy, swinging twist on Cameo’s “Word Up,” McBride
has a lot of fun talking the lyrics, and pounding out some
great stride piano. Bringing down the tempo, next comes one
of McBride’s own songs, “It’s Over Now.” From
the heartfelt rendering of the reflective lyrics to a Lorber-esque
piano solo, McBride delivers - heart and soul.
The upbeat, boogaloo of “This Is How A Heart Breaks,” from
Matchbox Twenty frontman Rob Thomas, has a vibe that is reminiscent
of the Ramsey Lewis Trio’s “The In Crowd.” McBride’s piano
is smokin’! On McBride’s interpretation of Seal’s “Kiss
From A Rose,” his soulful vocal improvisation and melodic,
grand piano render a passionate, powerful iteration of the
You’ve not heard Corinne Bailey Rae like this before. McBride’s
innovative arrangement of “Like A Star” is utterly
delicious. It begins with a simple, mid-tempo treatment,
then opens up wide into a upbeat, Latin groove. There’s
a fantastic guitar solo by Dan Wilson. Very, very cool. The
quartet is at their very best on the album’s original
compositions where McBride croons as the piano and band fuse
R & B with very accessible straight-ahead improv. The
romantic “Secret Rendezvous” with its sweet harmonica
transports us to an island hideaway.
I almost didn’t recognize this next song. McBride arranges
a funky, blues take on Gavin DeGraw’s composition “I
Don't Wanna Be” from his debut album Chariot (2003),
featured as the theme song for the TV drama One
Tree Hill. Again, it was a tremendous
surprise to find this extremely creative rendition. McBride
gets so worked up, he sounds like he is channeling Al Jarreau
on this track. John Mayer wrote “Say” for
the Rob Reiner film The Bucket List in
2007. McBride’s delicate version transforms the rock
song into a soul ballad. You can hear the influences of George
Benson in his vocals. McBride and band close with the
original, spirited, title track, “Lookin' For A Change.” McBride’s
vocals once again conjure Al Jarreau. The band really
cooks as the lyrics deliver a powerful social message.
McBride’s jazz interpretation of each song works so well
because he shows great respect for the strong melodies. This
gave the talented musicians room to innovate, jam, and solo. But
most of all, this album is a showcase for Joe McBride, whose
versatile, soulful voice and astounding acoustic piano virtuosity
have impressed me beyond my wildest expectations.