When God was handing out talent, Raul Midon must have found himself one of the first in line. This honey-voiced, virtuoso guitarist and accomplished songwriter (who also does a mean impression of the muted-trumpet) is now three albums deep and his star shows no sign of waning.
The Afro-Argentinian singer-songwriter first made major ripples on the scene with his debut album State of Mind (with a guest appearance from Stevie Wonder on harmonica) back in 2006. Its release was accompanied by a strategic and well-received performance on the Late Show with David Letterman and various tour dates including a London gig supported by, the then unknown, Adele. State of Mind was almost completely an acoustic affair.
The 2007 follow-up World Within A World however drew ire from certain quarters as Midon departed from the unplugged feel of his debut, opting for a fuller, more obviously programmed sound. The detractors need not have worried; the most important element-the songs – were still quality.
Midon has the knack of penning melodies so simple and effective; you wonder why no one else has thought of them before. Neither is he one for over-production and cluttered soundscapes, keeping his arrangements sufficiently spacious. In addition Raul’s live sets are usually stripped down to just the man and his six-string, proving he doesn’t need any gimmicks when the raw gift is on show.
Raul returns this year with Synthesis, possibly his most instantly appealing record yet. True, you don’t get to appreciate the fluidity of his guitar-playing in as pure fashion as on State of Mind, nevertheless the songs still reign supreme. And the organic beauty of Midon’s voice cannot be overstated. With clear Hathaway/Wonder-influenced inflections, all the while maintaining his own vocal identity, he honestly could sing a tax return and make it sound like the sweetest serenade you’ve heard in a long time.
Lyrically, Midon has also matured with each album. Whereas State of Mind suffered from bouts of triteness, Raul comes of age with ‘Synthesis’ with the help of songwriter Larry Klein. On ‘Don’t Be a Silly Man’, a tune about his flustered reaction on encountering one of his musical heroes, Midon reflects…
‘…We talked about our virtues and our crimes, we talked about the nature of these tenuous times and how our constant search for immortality will always be denied…’
On the poignant ‘When You Call My Name’ he speaks without self-pity on how, being blind, his other senses help him to appreciate the world around him; not least the comfort of hearing a loved one’s voice.
Midon’s ear for a great melody is still apparent throughout Synthesis, as highlighted on the reggae-fied ‘Invisible Chains’, ‘Bonnie’s Song’ and ridiculously contagious ‘Don’t Take It That Way’.
Calling on his various musical inspirations, Midon returns to his Latin roots on the breezy Bossa Nova number ‘Everyone Deserves A Second Chance’. He comes over all Billy Joel on ‘Next Generation’, which is redolent of the Piano Man’s ‘Tell Her About It’ – no complaints here. Midon goes a bit Hip Hop, at least in attitude if not in form, on ‘About You’ with its “I never really gave a f**k about you” refrain earning the album a Parental Advisory warning – something you wouldn’t normally associate with Raul. He must have really been ticked off by somebody.
He turns to his softer, more acoustic side on the bluesy ‘Why Am I Feeling So Bad?’ and a cover of John Lennon’s ‘Blackbird’. Midon’s version is understated but no less heartbreaking in its beauty.
The consistency of Synthesis is reassurance enough that Raul Midon has not lost any of his magic. As far as the blend of pop, folk, soul and jazz is concerned, it’s hard to think of anyone doing it quite as well as him.
Synthesis is out now on Universal Decca.