On the cover of Sam Ravenna’s sophomore solo album, a cartoon version of the multi-instrumentalist dons interdimensional aviator sunglasses containing all of outer space within them. It’s a fitting image for an artist bearing his soul while learning once again that, in the end, we all have to go it alone.
“Fragile” is a high-caliber, neo-soul album that was recorded in Tahoe City with a guest list of musicians from the region’s best local bands including Groove Foundry, The Sextones, Drop Theory, Sneaky Creatures and Medicine for the People.
On opening track, “U Give Me Sumthin,” Ravenna demonstrates his falsetto range right from the top. A noted bassist, his countermelodies take on a life of their own: one part Paul McCartney, one part Quincy Jones. The song is catchy from its opening hook all the way down to the warbling digistrings solo.
Minnesotan buddy Reed Grimm dusts off Ravenna’s back catalog of jazz-funk roots on “Help Me Find It,” as he lays down a melodic lyrical flow over muted trumpet and flute.
“I Like It Here” is sweet, yet bold yacht rock complete with a shuffling, island, samba beat and echoes of Lionel Richie. The lyrics are as straightforward, honest, sentimental, simple and seductive as the song title itself.
On “Where I’m Coming From,” Ravenna sings with the generosity of true love. He’s been hurt, but he’s gotten back in touch with himself and now he’s coming on strong with tenderness and devotion to spare; shades of Jamiroquai drift into a heartbreakingly-soulful Gibson SG guitar solo.
Ravenna channels his inner John Mayer with the simple acoustic strumming of “Won’t Be How It Was” giving his all to the performance and marking a line in the sand.
“Can’t Be Replaced” kicks off with tight acapella harmony and Ravenna’s voice really begins to settle in here. You can tell he is learning to trust himself amidst a local production team to challenge the best 1980s Motown studio.
“Arplude” plays like a secret Beastie Boys track with three quarters of a minute of loose, archaic grooves.
In “Human Condition” Ravenna gets down and dirty with a fearlessly deep bass track, trap set drums and some corner-market horn recalling late-era Miles Davis.
An open celebratory song from the heart before getting all Prince-dirty on the verse, “Pendulum” swings funky fresh like a Lafawnduh mix tape hollering about times good and hard.
“Everything can change so quickly,” sings Ravenna, playing the artist on the verge of his big break
Title track “Fragile” rips deep into an electro-dubstep, Latin-funk, space jazz jam composed of alien words that call to mind the psychedelic ramblings of Frank Zappa.
The final third of the 47-minute LP’s fascinating interludes, “Wurlilude,” is a James Bond, acid-trip wormhole to the infinite universes inside those trippy sunglasses he’s wearing.
In the end, closer “Abigail” is the longest and most compelling track on the album. It begins with piano arpeggios over extraterrestrial synth in Brian Eno time. Before long, I can’t tell if I’m listening to The Beatles’ “The Black Album,” Syd Barrett’s psychiatrist or a Broadway musical.
“How long will I keep falling into the void of a heart that knows no joy, and will I prevail, Abigail?” croons the Tahoe-based artist.
The music fades into a Rasta trance track reminiscent of Ravenna’s previous work as Samily Man, abandoning us to unsettled dreams of ska trumpet and raga break beat that seem to go on forever until the second line of a New Orleans jazz funeral rounds a distant corner of the next galaxy’s horizon. | samravenna.com