Casey Abrams was cast as the “Too Weird for American Idol” contestant of Season 10. He was quirky, confident and fully defined as an artist before he arrived at the auditions. Half Joe Cocker, half Bobby McFerrin, half My Morning Jacket, Abrams was clearly enjoying his brief moment in the spotlight.
More than a year after Idol, Abrams’ album is complete, as is his physical Chia Pet-quick transformation into My Morning Jacket’s Jim James (seriously, I can’t tell them apart).
Sadly, the brand name recognition that came from being on the receiving end of not one but two of the “most shocking Idol eliminations ever” did little to launch this album on a wider scale. Only 4,000 “Lumberjacks” (his version of Lady Gaga’s “Little Monsters” fanbase) stepped up to buy the album during its opening frame.
Abrams needs not sweat too much into his bushy brow: A.) the music is good enough to steadily snowball an audience; 2.) for the rest of July, Amazon MP3 has it on sale for only 5 bucks.
The most shocking thing about Casey Abrams is how safe he plays it — not that there’s anything wrong with that. If you’re into shiny happy people like Jack Johnson, Jason Mraz, John Mayer and Eric Hutchinson, then you will love this album.
Save for Mayer’s Battle Studies and the majority of Hutchinson’s catalog, the “earnest male singer/songwriter” category tends to bore the crap out of me. It’s ironic that songs with so little meat tend to make great soundtracks for summer barbeques. Maybe I am just too dude to get it; this genre is aimed squarely at the ladies. And the ladies, like my wife, will love Casey Abrams — the man and the album.
Casey Abrams (the album) succeeds because the melodies are bright, the lyrics are honest and clever, and most importantly, the songs briskly propel the album forward. Abrams co-wrote all of the songs with a cadre of A-list songwriters including Mraz and his producer Martin Terefe. This selling point is also its downfall — lots of Top 40 sing-along sunshine, not enough darkness. If only Abrams had followed up on a few of his Evil Urges.
But that’s just one opinion. Every lady I’ve played this for swoons and begs me to borrow it. All the songs are good, there’s just little use describing them individually because they all bounce along through the same happy meadow.
The one song I like the least struck its revenge by ear-worming deep into my head (displacing the lovely Ms. Jepsen). “Stuck in London” is a Sesame Street-ready ditty in which Abrams sings about “eating mangoes in the mango tree” — and yes, there’s a brief but blistering solo on the third-grade instrumental staple the recorder. Be careful with the kiddie melodies, Casey — those Kookaburra people love to sue.
Album highlight “Midnight Girl” is a stunner. This beautiful love song hits all the right chords and evokes the feeling of staring at the stars after a perfect first kiss.
“A Boy Can Dream” begins with a McFerrin-style whistle and would be a staple on every lovestuck tweenager’s Valentine Day mixtape if only boys still made those. If this record doesn’t work out, Casey can easily moonlight as a songwriter for One Direction, the Jonas Brothers and Justin Bieber.
At the very end of the album, “Dry Spell” picks up the pace and delivers on the type of song I was hoping to hear more of — a brisk, jazzy uptempo number powered by Abrams’ trademark upright bass. This song evokes the rhythm of “Hit the Road Jack” so much, it feels almost redundant when “Jack” shows up as the encore bonus song featuring Haley Reinhart.
“Jack” is Abrams and Reinhart’s second official pairing, after last year’s cover of “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” They make a very winning duo. For album #2, Abrams could take a cue from Reinhart’s big, bold, brassy and wildly ambitious debut Listen Up!, which is on track to be one of my year-end favorites.