Ian Shaw - Lifejacket - StereoMojo

Ian Shaw is another one of those jazz/pop singer/songwriters that is well known and appreciated in Europe, but a stranger to the American audience. That is a shame because in a place and time where MTV dictates many radio station's play lists and therefore album sales with pretty people who all sound alike with their juvenile lyrics, there is no opportunity to be exposed to artists with some maturity and real talent.

Lifejacket is an intelligent and sophisticated collection of stories about coping with everyday challenges that music lovers over the age of 18 will appreciate and enjoy. Take "Forty-Two," for instance - a story about growing older. You're not going to get that from Ashley Simpson or Hanna Montana. Same with the catchy uptempo "Love at First Tequila" with lyrics such as, " Here's a pound towards the next drink, here's a diamond for your ear, here's to what the other girls think, will you dance me out of here? Here's a kiss to last till later, here's a number on your palm, here's a ‘later alligator' in ink across my arm".

His style is more popish than straight ahead swing/jazz like say, Buble', even though Ian was awarded best jazz vocalist at the BBC Jazz Awards in 2007. I might best compare him to early Joni Mitchell. His previous effort was a collection of Joni covers. Regrettably, like Joni he wanders in over his head in "Letter to a Dead Soldier" and gets a bit too political; "I'm sorry if the hands that held you to the sunlight are the hands that killed for oil again. I'm sorry that the bullets from the wicked west came down on you instead of rain". It's not clear what nationality the solider is who was the victim of the "wicked west". Ian, being a Brit, do you remember bullets raining down in Belfast? One just shouldn't throw stones whether they live in glass houses or not.

"She's Loaded" and "I Want to Live in Paris" swing in a half-time feel with some jazz trumpet adding some heat while "A Good and Simple Man" is a slow jam that pays tribute to his dad.

There's much more substance here than Norah Jones or Diana Krall. At times I heard quite a bit of Steely Dan influence with much more warmth. You probably won't find yourself humming his quirky and a bit jerky melodies in the shower, but they are refreshingly unpredictable and far from the ordinary - and they do not all sound the same via the current boring pop formula where a short verse is sung followed by endless repeats of an unimaginative chorus. This is music for adults who have an IQ greater than Britney Spears.

Since this is a Linn release, it is a Hybrid Multichannel SACD with a CD layer encoded with HDCD. You can also download selections or the whole album in your choice of resolutions from MP3 to Studio Master hi-rez. The recording is much better than even a "good" pop/rock recording, but I would not call it an "Audiophile Reference". The soundstage remains firmly between the speakers but with some good front to back depth. There is some compression and limiting, but nothing like current radio fare.

24 June 2009