Singer-songwriter Casey Abrams has recently released his self-titled debut album. Abrams was a contestant on season 10 of American Idol, finishing in sixth place after the “judge’s save” kept him from an early elimination during Top 11 week. Those familiar with Abrams on Idol will remember him for his bluesy growl, his onstage humor, and his double bass playing. For someone rooted in a jazz and blues background, the contemporary sound of this album may be a little surprising. Casey Abrams is a jazz and R&B infused pop album clearly aimed at the youth market. There’s not a lot of soul searching on this album, but its organic instrumentation and catchy hooks make it a fun listen.
What’s missing from this album is some of the ferociousness and quirkiness Abrams displayed on the Idol stage. This is someone who fearlessly belted out Screamin’ Jay Hawkins “I Put a Spell on You,” and did a hilarious performance of Queen’s “Fat Bottom Girls” with Jack Black at the Idol finale. This is the same person who insisted on a jazzy performance of eden ahbez’s “Nature Boy” (popularized by Nat King Cole), during the songs from “movie theme week, even though mentor Jimmy Iovine thought the song was too obscure and the style to alienating to win over Idol audiences.
But what works on the Idol stage does not always translate into real world record sales. It’s a conundrum faced by many Idol contestants. What if the elements that made them popular on TV are not represented in their subsequent albums? Abrams’ album is not old-school blues, and it’s not straight jazz. Maybe some people will be disappointed in that, but Casey Abrams is a well-crafted pop album that shows Abrams is a skillful instrumentalist and songwriter finding his place in the modern music scene.
Abrams co-wrote all but two tracks on the album. He also plays multiple instruments on most of the tracks including double bass, electric bass, guitar, piano, and drums. While this album is not as jazz-heavy as I might have expected, Abrams’ jazz background is present throughout the album, particularly in the track “Dry Spell.” The track is an up-tempo number that really allows Abrams to show off his double bass skills. There’s a jazzy piano solo, and the song is driven along by the complex drum rhythms. This is one of the only tracks where Abrams really lets loose with his vocals, and we get to hear his trademark growls. This song represents the kind of musical direction I would like to see Abrams continue in.
The last track on the album is easily the most jazz-oriented entry. It’s a cover of Ray Charles’ “Hit the Road Jack” (written by Percy Mayfield), performed as a duet with another season 10 Idol finalist, Haley Reinhart. This version is quite a bit different than the Charles classic. It has a more relaxed, slowed-down feel, with a more prominent bass line. Casey plays bass on the track, and he manages a pretty good guitar solo too! Reinhart’s jazz-blues chops are on full display, and the whole track has a very cool feel. Other highlights from the album include the upbeat “Blame It On Me,” and the acoustic ballad “Great Bright Morning.” It’s easy to overlook “Great Bright Morning” in its subtlety, but its heartfelt sound and warm acoustic work make it worth going back to. “Blame It On Me” is just fun to listen to. It’s steady-rocking, propulsive pop that suits Abrams’ vocal style quite well.
There are several are catchy, mid-tempo tunes on the album including the opening track “Simple Life,” which is another track where Abrams shows off his skills on the upright bass. “Stuck in London” is another track you might find yourself humming later in the day. Lyrics like “You and me/Eating mangoes in a mango tree” are a little silly, but fun in a light-hearted way. While I wouldn’t say any of the tracks on the album are outright poor, some are less memorable such as “Midnight Girl,” and the only new track Abrams didn’t write, “A Boy Can Dream.” Some of the tracks lean more towards straight pop for my taste. “Get Out” is definitely hooky, but sounds a little like something Justin Bieber might do. A few weaker moments aside, Casey Abrams is a solid debut that shows a lot of potential in this up and coming artist.