Strong melodies, infectious hooks, earthy grooves and exceptional musicianship nestled in a warm, human soundscape
Mascot Label Group / The Players Club
12 / 50:16
Four songs ‘longer’ and one second shorter than its ‘fraternal twin’ release by musical collaborator Steve Lukather, Denizen Tenant is the impressive solo project by Toto vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Joseph Williams. Although fans might know him mostly for his impressive vocal work (both as a solo artist and as the voice of Toto) Williams has also been a film score composer with a paternal pedigree of no less than John Williams! It should be no surprise then that Denizen Tenant is an impressive collection of sophisticated, jazzy pop with slight leanings toward prog, a heavy nod toward Classic Rock, and a hefty dose of soul and blues.
The album is masterfully produced by Williams - an eclectic mix of strong melodies, infectious hooks, earthy grooves and exceptional musicianship nestled in a warm, human soundscape. Eight of the twelve songs are written or co-written by Williams. “Don’t Give Up” is by Peter Gabriel, “No Lessons” is by Jay and Dennis Gruska, “Mistress Winter’s Jump” is by Steven Overton, and “If I Fell” is by an obscure songwriting team called Lennon and McCartney.
The ominous groove of “Never Saw You Coming” starts the project with some surprising lyrical content - the inevitability, and the inexorable stalking of death. “I never saw you coming / Rollin’ up behind me in the pouring rain / I was wondering when you’d show up,” sings Williams, in a dark, funky groove. Still, the feeling is more defiant and annoyed than anything else (prompting the single instance that would earn the project an ‘explicit content’ warning). The tone brightens right away though, as the opener is followed by the bright “Liberty Man,” a six eight rock waltz that begins with the words, “I hear my heart singing a song.” The song has a great hook and an intriguing instrumental section that begins 3/4 of the way through, thanks to the incredible chops of Simon Phillips on drums, Leland (the legend) Sklar on bass, and Mike Landau and Steve Lukather on guitars!
As if the aforementioned musicians aren’t enough, Denizen Tenant is populated by the following: Lenny Castro on percussion; Oscar Bugarin on guitar; Steve Overton on bass and guitars; Barbara Gruska on drums and percussion; Jay Gruska on electric piano and synths; Nathan East on bass; David Paich on Hammond B3; Mark T. Williams on drums; Dylan Ronan on drums, bass and synth; Tina Guo on cello; and various other tenants of the Denizen musical house. Add to these talents the stunning lead, background, and back-up vocals of Joseph Williams himself, along with his piano, synth, drums and drum programming. Williams’ daughter Hannah Riuck is a guest vocalist on “Don’t Give Up,” and she joins her sister Ray, on “Wilma Fingadoux,” the fourth song on the album.
“Wilma Fingadoux” is a tribute to Williams’ mother, who passed away at the age of 41 (a clue to the lyrics on that opening track) - it’s filled with beautiful layers of rich harmony and textured vocals, including the emotional, haunting “I think I was wrong,” which floats in and out of the mix like a phantom. This song follows the album’s title-track, a great little piece of music that also features textured layers of vocals over complex time signatures. Not sure what it’s about, but I’m not sure how much that matters....
Sounding like a funkier, even more soulful Steely Dan, “Black Dahlia” does the AOL/pop/jazz/R&B thing to perfection, with Hammond, bass, synth, and guitar work that exemplifies the best of that sophisticated radio-ready genre. A stirring, gospelly take on Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up” follows. The sarcastically titled, “The Dream” reflects on the disappointments of the reality of what our perceived future has become. “We were discovering something new every day,” go the lyrics, “For all of that I got a phone and a mask on my face.”
Amongst an album full of great songs, “No Lessons” stands out for its uniqueness. Sounding like a standard from another time, Jay and Denise Gruska have written and arranged a fine song with a strong melody, nestled it in fine orchestration and handed it to Williams, who delivers a fantastic vocal performance. “There are no lessons - and this isn’t one of ‘em” is a classic line. One last note: covering The Beatles is risky. “If I Fell” is done with respect for the original but with subtle Williams stylistic tweaks. It works. Well done, Joseph Williams.
This is an album of confident, well-written songs masterfully performed and produced to classic rock perfection. Joseph Williams has a winner in Denizen Tenant - a project you’ll want to visit again and again.
- Bert Saraco
You can see Bert Saraco’s concert photography at www.facebook.com/express.image