Bobby Caldwell - House of Cards
Click on CD cover
to listen or purchase
Bobby Caldwell made his name by singing R&B and soul music steeped in jazz sensibilities. However, the places where Caldwell spent a portion of his life insured that he would be a musical sponge who soaked up influences from each port of call.
The vocalist and multi-instrumentalist was born in Manhattan, a location that provided him with a bass in jazz as well as the Great American Songbook. He also called Memphis his home, which is where he likely heard plenty of blues; country and R&B. Caldwell also lived in Miami for a time, where he soaked in that international city’s Latin influences.
The artist brings all of those influences together on House of Cards, his latest album and his first featuring all original recordings in seven years. House of Cards includes country, Latin and blues tunes. However, Caldwell is jazz and soul singer, and the best tracks on House of Cards features the vocalist performing tunes that swing and tell stories guys who win at cards and lose at love.
First, the good news: Caldwell fans will immediately realize that the artist still has a way with a lyric. Tracks such as the Latin swing number “Blue,” which tells the story of a man doing the post-mortem of a breakup, contains metaphors equating the color blue with longing and pain over a relationship that died too soon.
The jazzy “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” is a cautionary tale in which Caldwell tries to warn a friend about a predatory woman. The arrangement features an acoustic bass laying down a steady beat and a drummer applying a light touch with brushes, flourishes from a vibraphone and a keyboard solo that brings to mind smoke filled lounges at final call. Caldwell is in his comfort zone and brings a conversational and intimate to his vocal that matches the swinging instrumental arrangement.
If the instrumental arrangement on “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” stands out as one of the high points on House of Cards, the presence of synthesized strings and horns detracts from several tracks, including some pretty good numbers such as “What About Me,” “Dear Blues.” These arrangements will sound jarring to fans that remember the smooth instrumentation on Caldwell tunes such as “What You Won’t Do For Love,” or the lush arrangements on his two terrific big band albums. And while country numbers “Hearts on Fire” and “Dinah” fit within that genre’s storytelling tradition, Caldwell’s inner jazz singer wants to stretch and bend notes in a way that a country tune won’t allow.
Those shortcomings aside, there is plenty of meat on House of Cards for Caldwell fans, as well as lovers of good songwriting to enjoy. Most will find it worth their while to dig in and spit the bones out. Moderately Recommended.
By Howard Dukes