Release Date:
July 28, 2009

Reviewed by:
Anne Aufderheide

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 original.  

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 Befrom 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.