Jay Middleton knows the joys of being a husband, a father, and translates the ongoing hope those experiences produce on his new EP release Forward. The six song EP is the latest turn in a four decade long plus career as a truly underrated vocalist and embodies optimism that he rightly feels is essential in the aftermath of COVID and various other challenges facing our world today. Talented musicians join Middleton for the release along with current Jefferson Starship guitarist Jude Gold, but the unquestionable stars of this EP are Middleton and the message he offers listeners. We need voices such as his more than ever before. He seems to be writing and recording some of the best music of his career and his voice is as strong as it has been over the years.
“Last Time” proves all of the above. It’s a no brainer for the EP’s first single and sounds tailor made for live performance. He makes excellent use of horns in his music, here and elsewhere, and isn’t afraid to embrace traditional instruments such as an organ for a richer musical experience. He’s accompanied by a first-class cadre of musicians, that’s obvious, and “Last Time” benefits from on point drumming as well. Middleton, despite his many years as an active vocalist, sings like a man reborn.
The second song “I Like the Way” and its successor “Hard 2 Luv U” are songs counterpointing each other. The first is an outright love song that pulls back the reins on the opener’s exuberance but nevertheless maintains an energetic tilt. Piano and acoustic guitar fill out the track and it has a much more laid-back feel while chugging onward with steady energy. “Hard 2 Luv U” is love on the rocks, yet the best songs of this ilk are always pure love songs in disguise. Guitarist Vernon Black turns in an impassioned guitar solo late in this song that makes it a must hear. There is no filler on this EP and “Hard 2 Luv U” is one of the releases best.
Subtle percussion, piano, and acoustic guitar make up the musical body of the title song. It’s Middleton, however, and his deep maturity that brings the song to full flower. This is a song brimming with hard won wisdom rather than trivial cliches and overwrought sentiments. The acoustic guitar is a particular highlight. The finale “Get A Little” is a perfectly wrought closer that pursues the same mid-tempo path of earlier tracks while ratcheting up the emotion for the EP’s final curtain. It’s a perfect way to end Forward.
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