Friday, July 29, 2011

Soft That Doesn't Rock: Painted Desert Serenade By Joshua Kadison.

The Good: Lyrics are poetic, Voice is smooth and easy to listen to.
The Bad: Musically undiverse and unimpressive
The Basics: A soft voice and poetic lyrics aren't enough to save this musically unimaginative album.

Joshua Kadison's Painted Desert Serenade is the perfect example of the best and worst of "Light Rock." The fact is, it's more accurately "light pop" because nothing on this album truly rocks. It's soft and melodic, as one expects from the "light" half, but the "rock" part . . . it never manages to make a listener want to dance, want to cheer, want to do anything, actually. It's almost impossible to say "Joshua Kadison rocks!" The truth is, he barely pops.

On the strength side, Joshua Kadison is a writer. He's clearly a poet with a very good ability to storytell. In fact, he might be the best storytelling singer-songwriter since James Taylor, whose sound Kadison often seems to possess. Kadison's songs on Painted Desert Serenade have characters, like "Jesse" (who also pops up in "Georgia Rain") and Rachel ("Picture Postcards From L.A.") and he actually paints them out as meaningful individuals, as if each song is a little short story. It is a rare thing to be able to create characters with backstory and depth in music, but Kadison achieves this by giving more than names, he sings about their body language, their emotions and it works. It works quite well, in fact.

Joshua Kadison has some real depth of emotion to him and he has something to say. His songs mostly tackle love and loneliness, but he frames them with characters who are vibrant and alive (like Rachel) and he often uses himself as a much sadder, more introspective foil.

The problem is the music. His poetry - indeed, his short stories - is fine, deep and interesting, his sound is slow, boring and repetitive. He is musically unimaginative and while his talent for a first timer on the piano exceeds Fiona Apple's in imagination, it's still not enough. His voice remains in the same threshold, never challenging his smooth tenor, his piano keys are devoted to the center of the spectrum, the beats never wavering enough to make the listener want to do anything but sit quietly and think or cry. There is no variance here and it kills the experience.

The album becomes less listenable not because the stories don't change each time we hear them, but because so many of the stories SOUND the same within a single listen. That is, despite the thematic divergences between, say, "Invisible Man" and "Beau's All Night Radio Love Line," they utilize the same harmonics and piano ranges resulting in songs that sound essentially - disturbingly - the same. So the "tell" differs, but the "show" is homogeneous.

While this album is probably great for those who like '80s rock (like Steve Winwood) there's not much for those living in the music of today or the enduring music of yesterday to recommend here. The best track is the ballad "Beautiful In My Eyes" and the weak link is the annoyingly repetitive refrain from the title track, "Painted Desert Serenade."

For other male artists, please visit my reviews of:
Recovering The Satellites - Counting Crows
Twisted - Del Amitri
Forty Licks - The Rolling Stones


For other music reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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