Monday, July 16, 2018

Wayne Powers' If Love Were All

Wayne Powers, the second part of this two-fer, seems to walk the same rainy urban streets as Maurice Frank. The only problem with that observation is that Frank is a New Yorker while Powers plied his trade for years in Los Angeles, working with a band named Hoi Polloi. While Frank's album is his debut, Powers has recorded albums. His last one, however, was released in 1993. His story, therefore, is slightly different: "In the intervening quarter century, Powers' life has been full with both the poignant and the joyous--as all lives are." This seems to imply that life got in the way of Powers' singing career, and he has been working hard to get back to where he once belonged.

On the surface, this album sounds very similar to Mad Love and Romance. There's one subtle difference, of course, and that's Powers' equally amazing voice. Franks is upfront and genuine--he's just showing the world his gift and wants you to take him as he is. (I know, I said I wasn't going to compare the two.) Powers' voice, however, seems to be tinged with all of that experience he gained 25 years ago. He's more of a belter, and his voice is set back further from the front of the stage to accommodate that big delivery. There's a deeper resonance in his voice that sometimes sounds like he needs to distance himself from the emotions expressed in these love songs since they're still a bit too raw. There's something in his voice that suggests more of those poignant and joyous moments, and he may not be willing to let the audience see all of that pain.

Sinatra used to do that as well. Ol' Blue Eyes had a wry way of singing songs that revealed his strategy--sure that stuff happened to me, but years have gone by and I'm ready to move on even though it still hurts some. You'll also hear plenty of Sinatra in Powers' voice, the way he digs down deep and treats each lyric as if he's telling a story rather than talking solely about his feelings in front of strangers. Here and there you'll detect a catch in his voice, a moment where he starts to reveal something deep and personal and then changes his mind. Not every singer can add that much subtext to a love song. Sinatra could, and so can Powers.

Powers is backed by a relatively understated quartet--tenor sax player Ziad Rabie, pianist Keith Davis, bassist Ron Brendle and drummer Al Sergel--and they are there in service to that powerful voice. That's not to say the musicians are any less skilled than on "that other album"--they focus instead on creating a beautiful mood as a single, coherent unit. Another plus is that these performances were all captured live in the studio, so there's a spontaneous feeling afoot even if the solos aren't quite as dominant.

As I said, I won't tell you which of these two albums I preferred. There's a flow between them, but not one that feels like two separate albums from the same crew, captured at different times. The feelings, however, are still the same...a "personal yet universal saga of love lost and love found."

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