It feels surprising that Joy Mover’s self-titled debut album took so long to produce. Coming from a family of musicians, Mover has music flowing through her blood. The album Joy Mover feels like two different EPs, one full of her original music and the other including five cover songs, with the song “Home Sweet Home” standing by itself in a confused manner. While the arrangements for all the tracks hold the album together, it lacks a strong cohesion outside of that.
The album begins with “Have You Ever Loved?,” which is an interesting opening. Mover is willing to put jazz and a Latin feel together in this salsa-inspired piece. She immediately shifts into “Maria’s Song,” which has a Manheim Steamroller undertone. The filtering of Mover’s voice in “Maria’s Song” works well and wasn’t distracting. She composes her lyrics and melodies to fit her voice perfectly. Going from deep husky tones to airy lilts in “If I Could Tell You” is one great example.
The album felt like a team effort instead of a showcase for Mover. For instance, take the song “Midnight Oil.” Lyrically the song is strong, but the guitar, piano, and trumpet get moments to shine stronger than Mover. The guitar solo in “If I Could Tell You ” is wonderful.
The song “Only the Wind” takes a different turn. While it still has jazz undertones, it has a Caribbean/beach arrangement. The shift is a bit jarring. Going from salsa to bossa nova is nice, but I would have considered adjusting the order to make “Only the Wind” fit better. If the song was placed earlier in the album it would be great. The song’s position between “Midnight Oil” and “Nature Boy” was quite confusing.
I question the audio quality level of “Home Sweet Home.” It sounds like Mover’s vocals were run through a very odd echoing filter and I was distracted by how electronic Mover sounded. The almost auto-tuned sound didn’t fit the other instruments in the song and it made the lyrics seem immature. Upon further inspection, the production notes state that it was restored from MP3. I’d appreciate the song better if they completely reproduced the song to a higher audio standard.
The cover songs provide Mover an outlet to show her arranging skills. All the selections are classics that everyone should know. I loved the haunting spirit of “Nature Boy,” with its stark instrumental arrangement. The subdued saxophone use in the background was great. Mover’s airy voice was complimented well by the strings.
I’m not exactly sure how the introductory “rap” in the opening of “Till There Was You” fit with the rest of the song. It was a decent spoken word section, but there was nothing to write home about. It was ironic because Mover’s vocal prowess was probably the strongest on the track, so the “rap” section didn’t need to be there. Her ending to that song, where she had vocal freestyling combined with the guitar, screamed “live recording.”
The spirit of “Corcovado” was perfect. It was one of those songs that can transport you to places when you close your eyes. I was reminded of Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz when I heard it. Of all the covers, I found “Fever” to be the most predictable. Even with Mover’s vocal abandon in the song, it seemed like some producer forced her to put this song on her album to make sure people take a look at it. Even the trumpet solo was good but predictable. The album ends with “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” the simplicity of which contrasted with the production style of the rest of the album. The piano is one of its strongest points. There isn’t much that you can do to the classic. I often think of two versions: the Ella Fitzgerald/Louis Armstrong version and the Mama Cass version. Joy Mover’s fits right in the middle of the two.
The composition of Mover’s music is amazing. I have to give her credit for all the imaginative, original songs that she created for this album. Joy Mover has a natural ear for music. Her choice of covers and lyrics for her original songs sent a clear message of what Mover wanted to produce. There were arrangement issues, as I felt like Mover’s vocals were not the focus. While I loved the guitar by John Paul and the flute by Billy Ross on “Have You Ever Loved?,” Mover lacked any presence in the song. I would have dropped the volume levels of the backing singers and instruments to better showcase Mover’s voice. It felt like all the tracks of the album were placed on one recording volume setting and weren’t adjusted in the mix. Similarly, I wished the strings in “Nature Boy” could have been lowered to give Mover’s voice more of a ghostly nature.
As much as I want to praise Joy Mover’s album, instead of wanting more from her, I wanted more from the collective of musicians. Listening to Joy Mover made me realize that her voice and the arrangements of John Paul and Mike Levine would be better suited for a live audience or a live recording. For individual selections, I’d suggest the bossa nova-styled “If I Could Tell You.” The solos from John Paul and Ira Sullivan are standouts in “Midnight Oil.” Of the covers, I loved “Till There Was You” and “Corcovado” and recommend trying those out first before diving deeper.