Bobby Caldwell - Perfect Island Nights (2005)

Bobby Caldwell
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Bobby Caldwell's foray into big band jazz during the late 90s and early 00s was a pleasant diversion, and he proved himself to be quite convincing singing standards.  Equally importantly, he showed his ability to write instant standards, such as the great ballads "Tomorrow" and "April Moon," which fit well among the classic material on those albums.  His big band period appeared to come at the right time, as his mid 90s soul/jazz releases began to sound a bit formulaic.  So it was with great anticipation that I waited for the release of Perfect Island Nights, his first soul album in nearly a decade.

Bobby Caldwell's foray into big band jazz during the late 90s and early 00s was a pleasant diversion, and he proved himself to be quite convincing singing standards.  Equally importantly, he showed his ability to write instant standards, such as the great ballads "Tomorrow" and "April Moon," which fit well among the classic material on those albums.  His big band period appeared to come at the right time, as his mid 90s soul/jazz releases began to sound a bit formulaic.  So it was with great anticipation that I waited for the release of Perfect Island Nights, his first soul album in nearly a decade.

Again, Caldwell shows he is a fine songwriter, with a batch of good tunes and his always engaging voice.  However, Nights doesn't provide the fresh sound I expected after his decade away from the genre.  Caldwell has been enamored with technology since his early releases, and that has served as a mixed bag, giving Carry On a mysterious aura but making some of his 90s music sound a bit too cold and aloof.  And the heavily programmed, electronics-dominated sound of Nights is virtually identical to that of all of his non-big band offerings of the past 20 years; but in 2005 those arrangements sound alternatingly tired ("In the Afterlife," "I Need Your Love") or simply too precious ("Our Day Will Come" and "Sukiyaki").  The good news is that there are a handful of fine new Caldwell compositions that shine through anyway.  "Donna," "Rain" (which was previously included on his Time and Again anthology) and the title cut are top notch songs that would fit nicely along his best material, and "Call Me Up" is a much needed, energetic cut that is the album's highlight. 

Bobby Caldwell and partner Henry Marx were meticulous in their attention to authenticity in the arrangements on the big band albums, but they've unfortunately let the machines take over here.  It's too bad, too, because his strong compositions here are screaming for something acoustic behind his voice. Caldwell's loyal fans will find enough to like on Perfect Island Nights, but next time how about going unplugged?

By Chris Rizik

 
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