I always approach solo CDs by studio musicians with trepidation. Often, the artist’s instrumental facility in multiple sounds and styles – his very professionalism, in other words – leads to recordings that sound slick and “perfect” but lack soul. Jason Sinay’s new CD is, unfortunately, a good example of this problem. The opening bars of “Down To You” sound clean and fabulous and lead one to expect something Tom Petty-inspired. And that’s just what the song is – almost tribute-close to Petty’s singing and songwriting. It’s the best song on the CD, but just a touch removed from that elusive but real animal, authenticity. And though it has a good verse, it could use a slightly stronger chorus.
With a truly good song, it doesn’t matter whose licks or mannerisms or melodic style are copied, because a good song is a good song no matter what. “Down To You” comes close to that level and holds a lot of promise, but the rest of the album is a let-down. “The Only Son” follows the same pattern but falls a couple of steps short of true inspiration. For “This Is All” Sinay (who also produces, in addition to handling vocals and guitars) tries a Jeff Lynne sound, but the song sounds generic. “Drama Queen” is a heartland rocker that has some potential but is spoiled by awkward lyrics:
Drama Queen wears the crown of the baby king
Kept the mother of his kids locked up in a guillotine
Locked up in a guillotine?
It’s hard to go wrong with a J. J. Cale song, but Sinay manages to make “I’ll Make Love To You Anytime” sound stodgy and mechanical. (See Eric Clapton’s stoner version or Cale’s gruff original for the song’s intended spirit.) His take on the Grateful Dead’s “Scarlet Begonias” is a lot better; he and his expert band seem energized and loosened up by the Garcia-Hunter tune. But “Sunlight Through the Rain” is an uninspired ballad that sounds like it’s trying, without much success, to be Petty’s “Wildflowers” or the Dire Straits chestnut “Why Worry Now?” The chunky riff-rocker “Chicken Girl” is a fun tune that sounds a bit like a highly polished Mountain. But “Chico,” a cliched tale of the evils of the record industry, just doesn’t convince. (To be fair, not even Petty’s attempt at this was entirely successful.)
I had hoped to be pleasantly surprised, but The Jason Sinay Band falls into the trap that has snagged so many “musicians’ musicians” in the past: they’re so drenched in expert riffs and licks and sounds, so able to give other artists exactly what they want, that they can’t find a musical personality of their own.