Dudley Saunders, Monster
With a gentle and unmistakeable vibrato-infused baritone and counterintuitive melodies, Dudley Saunders creates songs that sometimes feel as if they’re about to float away pleasantly like helium balloons into the chaotic winds of the atmosphere. Lyrics don’t scan in standard ways, with words like “the” and “it” receiving unusual stress in the service of an insistent melodic drive, and Saunders’s brown, honeyed voice spins in unanticipated directions.
In the more rhythm-driven songs like “What I Won’t Do” and the strong opener “We Were Right,” the form feels secure, while in the more contemplative pieces like “Zero Out (In These Boxes),” and his soft setting of the Lord Byron poem “Roving,” the sense of drift is almost palpable, aided by the picking of Saunders’s soft acoustic guitar and the questioning fretless bass of Carl Sealove and Mick Mahan.
These songs too, though, possess an internal sense and structure to go with their warm sounds, even if some of the lyrics are inscrutable. They deal with serious matters like gun violence, AIDS, and rebellious youth, my urge is to just bathe in the sound; the soul of this disc is in the gratifying musical moments like the soaring melody of the chorus of “We Were Right,” the lovely lilting tune carrying the obscure lyrics of “Wheelchair in the 7-11 Parking Lot,” and little things like the climbing notes at the end of “Roving.” Judged as pop music, these songs do show a weakness: melodically memorable choruses are obscured by lyrics that lack the same juicy flow. But this isn’t standard pop music, and it succeeds on its own terms.
Tim Mahoney, Shine Through
For sunny, hook-laden pop with style and orchestration suggesting the late lamented 1970s, it’s hard to beat Tim Mahoney. I’ve been listening to his recordings for some years and, remarkably, his ability to churn out sun-speckled slices of American life with singalong hooks and plainspoken but elegantly crafted lyrics has not diminished, as evidenced by his new disc which is just chock full of exactly that sort of catchy thing.
“Summer Song” is the standout among an album-length string of winners that include the title track, the gimmicky but fun “Heart Attack,” the dirge-like “Shadow,” the gently acoustic “Truth Can Hurt,” and the plaintive “Dancing in the Moonlight.”
Working in an earlier decade, Mahoney would be a major star. Today his energetic but mature style, uncomplicated but sophisticated, isn’t quite the happening thing, but that doesn’t make it less worthy of note. And it was enough to get him onto the first season of TV’s The Voice, where Adam Levine “coached” him and inspired the disc’s closing number, “Hey Adam Levine,” a bright sparkler which recounts how “then your chair turned around…Hey Adam Levine, you thought I was a chick…You been puttin’ on those moves like Jagger/While I’ve been sitting there at home waiting for your call.”
Mahoney goes on, “You may know me as the King of Almost…[but] Somehow I’m here to stay.” It’s not Mahoney’s first great number about struggling in the music business; I think of his earlier tunes, “Theme Song” and “Big Hit Song.” And I suspect and hope it won’t be his last.