Goldswagger - Goldswagger (2016)

Goldswagger
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Mood-setting, funk-injected, mentally stimulating, and booty-shaking: a few of the phrases that spring to mind upon listening to Goldswagger, the first full-length album of original material from producer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and vocalist Michael Goldwasser. Guiding a sterling group of top-notch singers and choice musicians through an 11-song set that is at once boldly classic and effortlessly nouveau, the well-studied and coolly individual musician delivers a selection of tunes and grooves that will easily resonate with several generations and fans of a variety of soul styles.

Mood-setting, funk-injected, mentally stimulating, and booty-shaking: a few of the phrases that spring to mind upon listening to Goldswagger, the first full-length album of original material from producer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and vocalist Michael Goldwasser. Guiding a sterling group of top-notch singers and choice musicians through an 11-song set that is at once boldly classic and effortlessly nouveau, the well-studied and coolly individual musician delivers a selection of tunes and grooves that will easily resonate with several generations and fans of a variety of soul styles.

Previewed last summer via the richly emotive, 1970s-shaded slow-jam “I Can’t Wait” (sung by Maya Azucena), Goldswagger stands out amongst the pack of modern retro-driven R&B albums with a naturally flowing balance of ballads, midtempos, and dancers. Showcasing an equal share of both female and male singers with a no-nonsense command of the songs at hand, the set accomplishes the enviable feat of merging a versatile range of tones and colors into a logical musical progression. While the atmosphere is breezy and sunny on the feel-good “Stay” (featuring the endearing Lisala Beatty), the vibe is moodier and swagger-ful on the socially savvy “Facebook Friends” (sung by Robbie Rosen). These two tracks are strong examples of the contrasts and consistencies that run simultaneously throughout the album. While the former number thrives on a live rhythm section which emits soulful oodles of nostalgia and warmth, the latter is considerably contemporary in its programming technique and vocal arrangements—yet has an underlying pre-“digital” essence in its guitar and bass elements. Lyrically speaking, “Stay” is steeped in time-honored passages of romance and devotion, while “Facebook Friends” explores a potential relationship from a clearly modern angle. “What’s so social about this network if we can’t even look each other in the eye?” asks Rosen. The context is clearly now, but the message looks to a simpler time celebrated by so much of the music on Goldswagger.

Further notable moments on the album are in abundance, such as the sassy “Fix It Up” (another Azucena feature), which blends a festive horn arrangement reminiscent of Kool & The Gang’s early-‘80s style with a seamlessly tight rhythmic backbone provided by legendary drummer John “J.R.” Robinson (formerly of Rufus and The Crusaders). Goldwasser himself steps into the vocal spotlight on the edgy slow-groove “Tonight,” on which he displays a uniquely seductive baritone style that melds impressively with his distinctive synth work. Drummer Ivan Katz and backing vocalist Joanne Williams also stand out on the cut, which would sound at home on any number of playlists—be the theme quiet storm, smooth jazz, or alternative R&B. “The first time I saw you, baby, was the last time I knew myself,” Goldwasser croons with a throaty candor. “Since then, I’ve been a ball of confusion, I worry for my mental health,” he adds—the words melting slyly into the subtle flourishes of electric piano.

In a more lighthearted vein, the jazzy shuffler “I Think We’re Gonna Make It” glows with the gently assuring tenor phrasing of Greg Vilfranc and longtime session man Bill Holloman’s trumpet, trombone and flugelhorn stylings. Meanwhile, former Brand New Heavies vocalist Honey Larochelle shines on Goldswagger’s most uptempo moment, the symphonically driven and highly kinetic “Fantasy Lover.” And perhaps most unanticipated, the closing “Jewish Ladies” (featuring Melaku) offers a straightforward and heartfelt ode to its subjects over an innovative track mixing hip-hop-esque rhythms with melodic bits of Philly soul and understatedly funky guitar licks.

All 12 tracks on Goldswagger embody credible craftsmanship in songwriting structure, vocal performance, and instrumental execution. The wide-ranging palette of feelings, textures, and grooves explored add up to one impressive collage of soulfulness that will provide aural satisfaction for years to come. Highly recommended.

by Justin Kantor
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[Publisher's note: While not yet available in the US, this album is currently available in the UK and will be available in Japan on May 18]

 

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