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Release Date:
April 13, 2010

Reviewed by:
Shannon West

You may not know Raul Midon yet. You should. True originality is a rarity these days and his voice, songwriting and guitar work sound like nobody else out there. Of course there are influences, but his music is purely his own. He arrives with stellar references. Stevie Wonder did a guest shot on his 2005 debut, State of Mind, which got rave reviews from music critics and cutting edge fans. Shortly after that he was invited to open for Al Jarreau and George Benson when they toured together. The reason his  discovery curve has not reached stardom level is the usual - he's an adult oriented artist doing something that doesn't sound like everything else and radio abandoned artists like him over a decade ago. The buzz is building almost entirely through word of mouth. Where does a musician with a fast, percussive, flamenco driven guitar style who brings singer-songwriter sensibility to jazzy soul music fit in? On your CD or MP3 player of course.

Synthesis is Midon's third album and probably his most accessible because rather than try to replicate his electrifying live performances in a studio, which is hard for any artist to do, he worked in the framework of expanding his range as a songwriter, arranger, and vocalist and using the studio technology to enhance that. Part of that may be attributed to a new technology called Sonar that allows blind musicians to use digital recording and editing technology so he could feel out the way the songs needed to sound and do the demos on his own. He also brought in Larry Klein to produce the album. Klein has a brilliant track record with adult alternative. He produced several albums for Joni Mitchell and worked with Herbie Hancock on the Grammy winning tribute album, River. He also worked with Shawn Colvin, Peter Gabriel, Luciana Sousa, Madelyn Peyroux and Melody Gardot -all artists with completely original approaches. The musicians on the session are undoubtedly all over the liner notes of CD's you already own: drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, percussionist Paulinho DaCosta, Dean Parks on guitar, Jamie Muhoberac on keyboards, and Klein on bass. 

The thing that is going to buzz your ears about Synthesis is that none of these songs sound like stuff you already own. Also, the production is so clean and uncluttered that it sounds like these guys are playing in your living room. “Don't Be A Silly Man,” the opening track, showcases his ability to use music to create tension in a narrative. It's about a musician meeting someone he admires, turning into a gushy star-struck fan in the process and being told “I don't need your worship or your praise, it's real conversation that I crave,” after which they have a deep and wonderful conversation. But, the first verse ends with the “hero” saying “don't be a silly man,” then there is an instrumental break so you expect the encounter to be a putdown then he shifts the scene completely. His cover of the Beatles' "Blackbird" is a high integrity update that juxtaposes Midon's quietly soulful voice over the classic guitar line and shows his ability to perfectly mimic a trumpet vocally. "Bonnie's Song" also has the feel of the Revolver-era Beatles songs, with curvy melodic twists, poetic lyrics, and a subtle guitar backing. "These Wheels" has blues-rock underpinnings and "When You Call My Name" is a perfect soft R&B ballad without all the overdone vocal runs. "Everyone Deserves a Second Chance" juxtaposes a jazzy bossa nova groove under a moody lyric. The guy has a sense of humor too. "Next Generation" gently ribs the self absorption of the high-tech generation's information addiction and "About You" is the ultimate tell-off song, dropping the "F-bomb" eight times and earning the "Explicit" warning on the CD cover. Cover the kids' ears but let's be real, we all have a few people in our lives we would like to dedicate this one to. Next time someone ****es you off, crank this one up and sing along. Especially since it has this beat that sounds like those 80s "new wave" songs you could jump up and down to.

Bottom line. This guy has a major gift. He's a true original who knows how to channel a few influences without sounding derivative and he has delivered an album that has the feel of an indie rock-soul project without sounding raw or grating, a trap some big name artists going for that sound have fallen into. Another thing I love about Midon is that his voice is expressive and pure and he knows how to use it to deliver a song without resorting to histrionics and affectations. He also has an instinct for showing his guitar skills without overwhelming the song. This is the real thing, a real voice, real songs, and real artistry. Grab a copy of Sythesis and feel how exciting discovering fresh, new music can be!