Raul Midón - Synthesis (2010)

Raul Midón
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Incredible amounts of advance buzz as well as appearances on several major television shows greeted the major label debut of singer/songwriter Raul Midon in 2005.  His concerts were well known by that time and led Blue Note Records, still flush from its success with Norah Jones, to sign Midon and to pair him with legendary producer Arif Mardin for his debut.  The disc was a moderate success, but neither it nor its 2007 successor album, A World Within A World, fully captured the magic of Midon's live presence.

Incredible amounts of advance buzz as well as appearances on several major television shows greeted the major label debut of singer/songwriter Raul Midon in 2005.  His concerts were well known by that time and led Blue Note Records, still flush from its success with Norah Jones, to sign Midon and to pair him with legendary producer Arif Mardin for his debut.  The disc was a moderate success, but neither it nor its 2007 successor album, A World Within A World, fully captured the magic of Midon's live presence.

Three years have passed in which Midon has largely left the consciousness of US audiences.  Now signed with Decca Records, he returns with Synthesis, an album that is clearly his finest -- not because it captures the sweaty brilliance of his live performances any better than his other discs, but because it stops trying to.  Instead, it acknowledges itself as a product of the studio and relaxingly repositions Midon with the most melodic, accessible music he has ever recorded.

Midon comes into Synthesis ready to get a lot of things off his chest, and his venting results in some of his most interesting lyrics to date. In the opening cut, "Don't Be A Silly Man," he recounts misplaced idol worship with a music legend that was slapped back and ultimately transformed into meaningful, personal interaction. He then takes a swipe at the rationalizations we use when we knowingly compromise our morals ("Don't Take It That Way"), and shockingly drops the F-bomb eight times (earning the album a Parental Advisory sticker) in his bitter but opaque condemnation of an acquaintanceship gone bad ("About You").  But most powerful of all is his challenge to the vacuousness of the Twitter generation and its obsession with the happy trivial over the meaningful ("Next Generation"). The track features an almost childishly bouncy beat (similar to Hall & Oates' "You Make My Dreams") that slyly belies the throwdown of the lyrical punch line: "Have you heard about the next generation / you've got all the information, so there's nothing in your way / Have you heard about the next generation / you're the leaders of tomorrow / and tomorrow's here today."

In addition to real growth as a lyricist, Midon takes a big step forward in both the accessibility of his tunes and his overall approach to the disc. Perhaps too much of his first two major label albums was spent chasing the shadows of his killer live performances, unable to capture that spark in the studio.  He shakes off attempts to recapture his live presence on Synthesis, instead making a studio album that works on its own.  Rather than sounding like live songs being replicated in the booth, Synthesis is full of terrific studio songs that will translate well when he takes them on the road.  The difference is surprisingly important here, as for the first time Midon sounds both relaxed and sonically terrific in the studio surroundings, with "Next Generation," "These Wheels," the beautifully soulful "When You Call My Name" and his cover of the Beatles' "Blackbird" all being among the best cuts he's recorded.

For those who didn't "get" Raul Midon on his prior two albums (largely those who had never seen him perform), Synthesis is the album to bring them in.  It is intelligent and abounds with memorable tunes, Midon's always-excellent vocals and a great sequencing of songs that keeps the disc moving beautifully from beginning to end.  And for Midon's existing fans, Synthesis is a must have: far and away the best album yet by one of the most interesting young singer/songwriters around.  Highly Recommended.

By Chris Rizik

 
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