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Arguably the most accomplished singer/songwriter of his generation,
Rob Thomas is one of modern music's most compelling and commercially
successful artists. Between Matchbox Twenty, his solo work, and his
various collaborations with iconic artists like Santana and Mick Jagger,
his tally now stands at more than 80 million albums sold worldwide.
The latest magical collection of Thomas-crafted inspiration is his
second solo album, cradlesong. The new album follows his 2005 multiplatinum solo debut, ...Something To Be, which made history as the first album by a male artist from a rock or pop group to debut at No. 1 on The
Billboard 200 since the chart was launched 50 years earlier. The album
earned a pair of Grammy nominations and spawned a string of hit singles, including the smash 'Lonely No More' which was #1 in 15 countries. cradlesong, with Matt Serletic again in the producer's chair, was forged in a creatively charged atmosphere. The result is a percussive rock record that pulses with passion and energy and portrays a world he views with boundless optimism. Despite the occasionally discouraging lyric, Thomas infuses that hopeful spirit into cradlesong. 'I'm not a
mopey person; I don't get satisfaction in heartache and despair. With the exception of a few things that start dark and stay dark, there's usually a hopefulness at the end of each song,' he says. 'There has to be; it s the hopeful part that makes you want to share them with people. It's the hopeful part that says you found some secret in the pain and maybe some other people will, too.'
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Well, with his second solo release, CRADLESONG, that's just what Thomas delivers. One of the most varied, energetic albums so far this year, CRADLESONG showcases a number of sides to the Matchbox Twenty frontman, and they all (pretty much!) work!
Things kick off with the disc's first single, the lilting "Her Diamonds." A heartfelt lead vocal and a shimmering arrangement cushion pained lyrics about being unable to help a loved one when they're hurting: "By the light of the moon/She rubs her eyes/Says it's funny how the night/Can make you blind/I can just imagine." Nice.
"Gasoline" is one of my two favorite tracks off of CRADLESONG....from the '80's intro to the soaring guitars, this is just a cool cut! Toss in a killer lead vocal and powerful lyrics ("It never took a lot to make this hard/'Cuz you were so off balance/And I knew all the words to set you off"), and you have a hit single, just waiting to happen!
"Give Me The Meltdown" has a nice INXS vibe to it, with Thomas delivering the song in a sly, slinky manner. The arrangement is fresh and energetic, but it never overpowers, allowing Thomas' vocals to weave in and out, curling around the lyrics, all highs and lows. Another gem!
"Someday" is a gorgeous cross between power ballad and mid-tempo rocker. Thomas' lead vocal is strong and assured, floating along, buoyed by Matt Serletic's lovely piano riffs. The rest of the track is just as solid, allowing the some what dark lyrics to sparkle.
There's something about "Mockingbird" that just seems a tad bit....dated. Don't get me wrong...the track's graced with a nice lead vocal and crisp instrumentation, and I love the lines "Take my hand/I will lead you through the broken promise land", but, overall, there's a "been-there-done-that" feel here.
The same can't be said about "Real World '09", my favorite track on CRADLESONG. There's such an energy to this cut...it's absolutely infectious! Thomas' voice swoops and soars, while Serletic's programming is brilliant; you get the feeling you're listening to a major drum brigade here, and you can just picture the dance remix! But...and this is a big "but!"...it never seems forced or calculated. Thomas isn't goig for the latest "hip" sound here....this is something organic, something from the gut, something REAL! In other words, a track that just came about in the most honest, truthful, FUN way....I LOVE this song!
"Fire On The Mountain" is a really unique number....it's a pinch U2, a dose of Simple Minds, a sample of Midnight Oil....yet, it's 100% Rob Thomas. Anchored by Michael Bland's blistering drumming and a smoldering lead vocal, this cautionary tale ("There's evil in the garden/But you don't see it/I can tell") draws from many sources, but never seems like a copy...Thomas acknowledges his inperations, then makes it all his own. Another one of CRADLESONG's high points!
"Hard On You" has a nice island groove that brilliantly offsets the heavier vibe of "Fire..." Thomas' lead vocal almost bounces along, perfectly backed by Sherree Brown and Robyn Troup. Add some atmospheric African drums and tasty percussion courtesy of Lenny Castro, and you have a very nice little number indeed!
I love the blast of gut-wrenching rock that opens "Still Ain't Over You"....I just wish the rest of the song continued to rock as hard! Yes, it still rocks, and it's a nice enough arrangement, but the album could've used a real ROCKER right about now, and those opening chords just hint at what could have been. And that's too bad.
There's a dark, other-worldly quality to "Natural." Thomas delivers a haunting lead vocal, while special mention has to be made of Sean Hurley's awesome bass playing. Thoughtful lyrics ("Are we just sitting here/Waiting on the end/Like it's only natural") just add to an already powerful cut.
"Snowblind" is a nice mid-tempo rocker, full of smart, insightful lyrics ("This is our life/It's all that we get/The days are all numbered/And the nights are all spent").
"Wonderful" is a horns-drenched rave-up that sports a rockin' lead vocal that's practically spit out, and edgy lyrics ("No I can't be myself/And I can't be nobody else/But if I could/Would you love me then").
There's a delicate beauty to the disc's title track that's simply enchanting. The arrangement just dances along ~ special shout out for Bryan Sutton's mandolin playing! ~ while Thomas' vocal is equal parts sweet, soothing and sentimental. Yet another hit single waiting to happen!
Things end on an upbeat note with the back porch jam that is "Getting Late." The relaxed toe-tapper has a nice shuffle to it, with an easy-going lead vocal steering it along. Toss in some smart lyrics and you have a nice wrap-up to an already good disc.
And this IS a good album. With CRADLESONG ~ one of 2009's strongest, most consistent, albums so far this year ~ Rob Thomas proves he's a major contender. (As with all my reviews, I'm giving the disc an extra half a star for including the lyrics, something that seems to be grossly out of fashion this year!).