Daryl Hall - Laughing Down Crying (2011)

Daryl Hall
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“I guess you can tell by listening to this collection that I’ve been through a lot.” So begins the liner notes on Daryl Hall’s fifth solo album and his first in the new millennium, Laughing Down Crying.  Now 65 years old (really?) and forty years into his recording career, Hall is incredibly just hitting his stride:  He is receiving long overdue critical appreciation for his brilliant body of work and he hosts a musical feast of a television show, Live At Daryl’s House, solidifying his longtime audience and gaining for him a new one.  But along with all the positive recent developments have come losses including, most significantly, the death of his longtime collaborator and friend, T-Bone Wolk, who died suddenly, four days into the recording session for the new album.

“I guess you can tell by listening to this collection that I’ve been through a lot.” So begins the liner notes on Daryl Hall’s fifth solo album and his first in the new millennium, Laughing Down Crying.  Now 65 years old (really?) and forty years into his recording career, Hall is incredibly just hitting his stride:  He is receiving long overdue critical appreciation for his brilliant body of work and he hosts a musical feast of a television show, Live At Daryl’s House, solidifying his longtime audience and gaining for him a new one.  But along with all the positive recent developments have come losses including, most significantly, the death of his longtime collaborator and friend, T-Bone Wolk, who died suddenly, four days into the recording session for the new album.

These complexities of life – even the life of a recording star – weave their way through the ten songs of Laughing, giving them a texture without providing pat answers to the many questions Hall asks.  So many years into the game, Hall is still probing, searching.  But if he doesn’t have all the solutions to the problems of his life, he shows again on Laughing that, like life itself, he can wrap his queries in settings that make the journey fully worthwhile.

Hall arose with partner John Oates in the 70s as a largely acoustic duo that wore their love for Philly Soul on their sleeves. But as the 80s arrived, the group’s second life – and its sound -- was even bigger, with a series of keyboard driven, infectiously upbeat songs like “Private Eyes” and “Maneater” making Hall and Oates the most successful duo of all time. Then as the 2000s came, with their hitmaking days behind them, the duo moved closer to their roots with a much more organic sound, often performing entire sets at their shows using four acoustic guitars, while on record creating great new adult contemporary songs like “Do It For Love.”

While Laughing has elements of all those H&O periods (the first single, “Eyes For You,” could really be called “I Can’t Go For That, Part 2.”), it ultimately appears to be a logical – if somewhat hotter – evolution of Hall’s work in the past decade.  It bears a sound that is alternatingly familiar and new, always having the pop sheen and strong melodies that have made Hall’s work so damned likeable, but also incorporating new elements from such varied sources as Southern Soul and Urban Pop. Importantly, it rarely sounds the same on any two songs.  So disparate tracks like the horn-laden, Memphis Soul “Message To Ya,” the bluesy “Problem With You” (Wolk’s final recorded performance), the Gospel influenced “Save Me” and the almost prototypical Hall & Oates post millennial number, “Lifetime of Love,” all coexist and actually work together effectively.

Hall makes it clear throughout Laughing that he has not lost his songwriting chops. He penned all 10 songs and they are just as hooky and compelling as his best material. “Message To Ya” and the upbeat rock number “Wrong Side of History” should be in heavy rotation on pop radio. But for my money the album’s gem is buried way back at number nine, with the gorgeous, restrained power ballad, “Crash & Burn.”

Hall has spent the last two years working with a variety of artists - many less than half his age - on Live From Daryl’s House, and he has come out of that as an even sharper writer and player.If he were a basketball player, the announcers would be talking about him “putting on a clinic” for those younger artists on Laughing. His voice is virtually unchanged, as pristine and soulful as it was during his commercial peak in the 80s, and the disc keeps the pop sensibilities that have always been Hall’s strengths and combines them with more adventurous, fresh arrangements and lyrics that pose thoughtful – sometimes unanswerable - questions from a guy who has “been through a lot.”  With Laughing Down Crying, Daryl Hall shows that he is not only relevant more than four decades into his career, he is still peaking.   Highly recommended.

By Chris Rizik

 

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