CD REVIEW: Jeff McMullen - Square One
by: Cyrus Rhodes
Label: Independent Artist
Genre: Americana, Rock, R&B, Folk
Sounds Like: Bob Seager, Paul Davis, Meatloaf, Edwin McCain, Ray Lamontagne, Warren Haynes, The Black Crows
Technical Grade: 6/10
Weakness: Winded Songs and Catalog, Lack of Instrumentation, Lack Solo Segments, Repetitive CD Catalog, Dated Mix
At the conclusion of Jeff McMullen's audition for the music department at the University of North Texas, the professor suggested Jeff consider a career path other than music. Ill-prepared, Jeff sang a bit of what he could remember from "My Country Tis Of Thee", and from that the professor completely assessed the musician's talent. Little did he know, Jeff had spent 8 years in formal classical piano training, played for vast audiences most of his life, and just finished a North American tour with rock band, Aristaya. Declined admission as a music major, he still took one vocal class in Italian opera, and received a "B". Jeff claims it to be the highlight of his musical career. His latest effort entitled “Square One” was released in 2014.
The CD lifts off the ground nicely with Track 1, “Lick and a Promise” a heartfelt flowing ballad that serves up an earthy guitar-driven groove, Piano, meshed against impassioned vocals and sad but true soulful melody from McMullen. Track 2, “That’s Not a Song” shifts gears a bit with a steady flowing rhythm and well placed Americana-Folk-Piano ambience painted against a grand slam chorus and impressive lyrics musical finale making for an impressive follow-up statement. Track 3, “I Can’t Touch, I can Feel” is another strong ballad that dishes out a rock steady R&B rhythm, and some well-placed vocal harmonies that flows and ebbs its way through to motional fruition. The CD makes a strong first impression, dashing out 3 very solid songs in a row. The musicianship involved is above the bar. I would classify this music as classic Singer/Songwriter. Pop/Americana, with brief touches of Modern Folk, and even light rock. White's music is reminiscent of classic Bob Seager, Paul Davis, Edwin McCain, Ray Lamontagne, Warren Haynes and Meatloaf. Along the way you will notice lush instrumentation with well-placed Acoustic and Rhythm Guitar, sporadic Organ, Keyboards, and Piano, a few lush harmonies all built upon a ‘thick as a brick’ rhythm section. What I like the most about McMullen and his band, is how well they seem to groove together, testament to hundreds of hours of writing and rehearsal time no doubt. Now turning our attention over to McMullen As for his vocal abilities - he’s a great advent for the Singer/Songwriter genre. His voice goes down smooth and fills the space peacefully and unobtrusively with a timbre that is impassioned and raspy. He commands an effective baritone. All songs are well crafted and consistent across the board - effective Songwriting. This latest effort from McMullen delivers 17 solid timeless tracks all providing musical enjoyment filled with strong heartfelt musical variety. At times his vocal timbre reminds me of Michael Bolton and Meatloaf. The music of Jeff McMullen has everything you would expect from a compelling musical production. From grooving “Sugarcoats and Kidgloves” and “Yellow Rose” to striking “Ghost Writer” and “In Company With Isolation” to heartfelt “Lay You Done” and ‘The Unmailed Letter” to melodic “Man of God” this CD has something for just about everyone. The CD ends with Track 17 “Spaghetti” the perfect finale statement for a CD like this.
All songs over 3.5 minutes tend to drag you to the finish line. During some of the slower moments McMullen comes on a bit strong. I recommend he step back from the mic, dial back the intensity a bit and showcase a slow, heart-stopping baritone during all the pin drop moments. I wish there were more harmonies to mix up the vocal delivery a bit better. If there are harmonies they are not mixed very effectively. I also wish there were more solo segments and instrumentation throughout the CD. Things like Harmonica, Solo guitar, Pedal Steel, Mandolin, Strings, Slide Guitar and Saxophone would add more musical variety to the catalog. Because of the sparse instrumentation the 17 track CD comes across as being a bit repetitive and very winded overall.. The mix though adequate sounds a bit dated. Within the sonic spectrum I there needs to be more solid low end punch and the crystal clear high end clarity.
From start to finish, "Square One” by Jeff McMullen is an impressive collection of music. The songwriting is impressive and straight from the heart – full of consistent musical experiences, each one possessing a unique personality, flair, and signature groove. Note for note, song for song, there isn’t really a weak piece in this entire catalog. The writing and playing abilities of Jeff McMullen and his band are rock solid. The melodies and sparse harmonies are well crafted, and the lyrical content is packed to the hilt with good old-fashioned conventional Americana Singer-songwriter wisdom. At the end of the day McMullen brings the mojo, and is clearly a marquee talent from Texas. One would be wise to keep a watchful eye on him over the years to come.