Razor & Tie Records, 2012
REVIEW BY: Tom Haugen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/18/2012
Indiana born and bred songwriter Jon McLaughlin is a good example of how major label stardom can have its setbacks. Though he’s achieved plenty of success, including playing at the Oscars, being featured in Disney movies, touring with household names and releasing a string of well received discs, major label guidelines have kept him from penning the album he truly wanted to.
His time on the majors had him obligated to work with specific songwriters, often not yielding the vision McLaughlin really wanted. These days he’s on board with Razor & Tie, probably the most powerful indie label in that it lets their artists to retain complete creative control.
McLaughlin doesn’t waste any time getting right down to business here. The opener and title track is a roaring piano driven rocker that allows his voice to soar over captivating melodies. The following track, “You Never Know,” follows suit, though the tempo is a bit slower and handclaps are injected. McLaughlin takes company on vocal duties with Sara Bareilles and Xenia Martinez later on in the disc, and both women complement McLaughlin’s smooth voice well.
The subject matter almost entirely surrounds love and its trappings, though Promising Promises touches on both sides of the equation. “Summer Is Over” details a long time affair gone awry, while “I’ll Follow You” explores the permanent sides of love, a glimpse into the optimistic aspect of McLaughlin’s prose.
Though he rarely breaks free from the pop-rock formula (the quaint piano ballad “My Girl Tonight” is an exception), with the appearances of different female voices and McLaughlin’s penchant for strong melody and exceptional work with the keys (e.g. “The Atmosphere”), this disc never overstays its welcome. Soulful, heartfelt and genuine, though much of the lyrical imagery is melancholic, his music remains upbeat, driving and even inspiring. The pop-rock category is about as flooded as possible right now, but Jon McLaughlin deserves to be on a list with Greg Laswell and Ron Pope as underdogs of the genre who can pen a tune just as well as household names.