I think I have lived long enough now with New York-based singer, pianist, and songwriter Jon Regen‘s new album “Higher Ground” and the good thing about it is that I have returned to listening to the eleven tracks over and over again. This is not one of those albums you listen to just once and then forget about it. Why? Several reasons I guess. Maybe it’s because Jon’s voice and style of singing has become more intense and intimate over the years. Maybe it’s because the songs reflect a new side of him since the birth of his son which of course has shaped his brilliant songwriting.
Maybe it’s the fact that Matt Johnson, who also worked with Jamiroquai, is all over the album playing bass and keys, programming drums, and producing in a sharp and wide-open way. And certainly because of the brilliant musicianship with artists like Ricky Peterson, Benmont Tench, Jim Rotondi, Larry Klein, or Tim Lefebvre all contributing to this standout project which cleverly, intelligently mixes pop, jazz, blues and soul in some immaculate and unique way that it’s a pure joy to listen to it. There is so much to explore here. The title track is high-class with some witty and candid lyrics.
And you always find new textures and treats after several spins. I think Grégoire Maret on harmonica on the straight-forward “Every Night” with its bluesy textures is a brilliant add to the piece which also features some mean organ and cool piano. I keep coming back to “Wide Awake” though, the album’s opener which probably sums up best what Jon’s inimitable artistry is all about. I think this is one of the best pop songs I have heard this year, complete with an amazing hook, tantalizing backing vocals reminding me of some “Gaucho” Steely Dan, very effective keyboard arrangements and some of the most easily floating vocals by Jon which simply makes this soulful track irresistible.
The strength of his voice, combined with a rare talent of talking to you and telling his story, is pretty evident on “Before Jon” which also features the guitar of Andy Summers and brims with some whimsical keys and drums arrangement (drums by Jerry Marotta), making this a paean to some of the best 80s synth/wave songs. There are incredibly beautiful moments, too. “The Last To Go”, dedicated to his wife, oozes elegancy and beauty, with some colorful organ playing by Benmont Tench. “Eastside Blues” is pure fun, “New Sensation” gets cynical in the most sympathetic way.
Catch Jon at New York’s Blue Note on December 20th and 21st, at Pizza Express in London on January 16th, and Scullers in Boston on January 24th.