Eddie Sea - Welcomes You to the Velvet Lounge

Eddie Sea
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Even when the music or tracks are something to behold, single-producer compilation projects can be unwieldy, unpredictable tricksters for their creators to wrap their arms around. So many details to manage, and it only takes one or two stray threads to unravel an ambitious production’s tapestry. One guest singer nails a producer’s composition on the head, while the next track sponsors a singer in search of a pitch. Another song that could shine becomes overwhelmed by the bassline or underwhelmed by the vocal mix. Such is the case with songwriting producer Eddie “Sea” Caldwell’s jazzy soul sophomore project, Welcomes You to the Velvet Lounge. From top to bottom, many of the songs live or die on the strength of his guest vocalists and sometimes even on an individual performance. Conversely, Caldwell’s love of booming, thumping productions’ undermine some of his singers’ best efforts. At the project’s best, Mr.

Even when the music or tracks are something to behold, single-producer compilation projects can be unwieldy, unpredictable tricksters for their creators to wrap their arms around. So many details to manage, and it only takes one or two stray threads to unravel an ambitious production’s tapestry. One guest singer nails a producer’s composition on the head, while the next track sponsors a singer in search of a pitch. Another song that could shine becomes overwhelmed by the bassline or underwhelmed by the vocal mix. Such is the case with songwriting producer Eddie “Sea” Caldwell’s jazzy soul sophomore project, Welcomes You to the Velvet Lounge. From top to bottom, many of the songs live or die on the strength of his guest vocalists and sometimes even on an individual performance. Conversely, Caldwell’s love of booming, thumping productions’ undermine some of his singers’ best efforts. At the project’s best, Mr. Caldwell’s sumptuous, instrumentally lush productions illustrate a man who knows how to keep all the balls in the air, but sometimes his ambitions leave him holding loose spools of yarn.

Multi-instrumentalist Caldwell proved on his debut project, Moon City, that he is a producer worth looking out for. Funkier, moodier and a bit more bottom heavy in his musical approach than many of his smooth jazz peers, Caldwell has a knack for developing voluptuous tracks with plenty of presence. Velvet Lounge picks up where Moon City left off, with sensual songs drenched in melodrama. Caldwell is an atmosphere man who’s great at maintaining a signature, bass heavy musical tone that is consistent from start to finish on his projects. This sometimes proves a problem, as every song doesn’t need to be big or bumping to sell it. Some of Caldwell’s best musicianship is found in finely calibrated musical elements that stand out on specific spotlight tracks. Even on the more epic songs, it’s the less obvious elements that give these compositions texture and movement, like the tom toms, sitar, and woodwind instruments on “Kama Sutra Love” and the dueling guitars, shimmering high hat, and Golden Child’s closing wails on the epic power ballad, “Hurricane.”

Lyrically and in vocal arrangement, however, Caldwell’s compositions aren’t particularly infectious. Even when singers competently stretch, riff and growl, the choruses they chant too often fail to inspire a sing-a-long or a sense of listener awe. Some of this lack of catchiness is because of song length which consistently clocks in at over four and half minutes or more, but just as often it is Caldwell’s privileging of music and groove over voice in his arrangements.

When songs don’t work, it isn’t all Caldwell’s fault. Some of the resulting lackluster is simply because of thin to indistinctive performances, with Ieasha Sturdivant’s “Living for the Sun” leading the pack. Marilyn Hearn’s sweet but light melisma-rich instrument is also undone by a production that begs for a flat-footed belter to match the overpowering production of “Power.”

One of the newcomers to Caldwell’s world does surprise. The standout “Karma Sutra Love” is a looker more from its panoramic East Asian sounds than Taj’s tenor, but the newcomer more than holds his own, seamlessly fitting into the mix. He matches that performance on a big finish duet with Shauntia Toussaint on the otherwise rambling “Super Star Soul Mirage.” 

To his credit, Caldwell brought back other top-notch singers, voices who fare better navigating Caldwell’s outsized, caboose weighty productions. Both The Golden Child and Shauntia Toussaint from Moon City (Aaron Sledge is glaringly absent) have multiple star turns, and each has exceptional moments on tunes where voice, music, and arrangement are all in alignment. The Golden Child is positively Stevie Wonderesque on “Planet Earth” and “Hurricane.” Shauntia Toussaint is equally luminous on the bumping ode to Chicago, “Velvet Lounge ‘Sultry,’” and “It’s That Feeling.” Both also have been handed songs whose arrangements do them no favors and they in turn do little to make the mundane an awesome wonder--from The Golden Child’s “So Alive” to Touissant’s “Images.”  

A listen to the project’s lone instrumental, the Eastern-influenced “Sundara,” one wonders if these eclectic smooth jazz dreamscapes wouldn’t have been better served vocalist-free, especially with musicians as capable as Alexander Duval, Phil Seed, Tom Krol, Aaron Mills, Bill Hazel and Anthony Caldwell. As a music man, Caldwell’s work is utterly sublime, on par with the best of Norman Connors or Rex Rideout. It’s his lyricism and uneven handling of his singers’ voices that seems to be the most daunting for him, which is a shame because few smooth jazz producers can create songs with the undeniable presence and verve that his bring. Mildly recommended.

By L. Michael Gipson

 

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