The CD in question was Generation of Need, by Jack Babineau, a young Rhode Island singer/songwriter. When I got down to listening to it, the Dave Matthews influence was evident right away, less so with the Jack Johnson sound. I did also hear some shades of Ben Harper (sans the gritty pedal steel) and John Mayer in the tracks. However, I was most struck by the maturity of the songwriting and the well-defined, sophisticated sound of the recording.
Instruments are subtly interwoven, yet crisp and well-defined. Most songs are built around a foundation of layered guitars, starting with Babineau’s driving acoustic and the frequent interjection of electric guitars of various hues. Solid bass and surprisingly adept drumming (compelling, but not over-busy) flesh out the sound. Understated, but essential, keyboards add nuance and distinction to most of the tracks.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that the young star and his band mates’ raw talent is featured in the refined setting of Emerson Torrey’s accomplished production and juiced by the guest appearances of other renowned local music industry vets such as James Montgomery (adding resonant blues harp), Mark Cutler (on country-blues style slide guitar) and Richard Reed (whose keyboard skills seem to grace all of the album’s best tracks), as well as Torrey’s guitar and piano contributions. (Torrey’s teenage son, Jake, is one of the three guitarists in the band.)
Babineau’s lead vocals are band-leader worthy and effective in delivering his catchy and thoughtful lyrics. The song arrangements are tight and the playing is sharp throughout. But the secret weapons that really give this release a major label sound are the well-executed harmony vocals and the production – studio effects are adroitly employed, never over done.
While the whole 30-minute CD is easy to enjoy, the standout tracks are the title track, a muscular song in which potent electric guitars are juxtaposed against an acoustic foundation; the funky “Love Now,” in which the soulful backing vocals and driving beat recall The Rolling Stones in their glory years; and “Keep It On,” which elicited some nostalgia for me, harkening back to the short-lived early 1990’s collection of local studio pros and an acoustic duo from Maine known as The Walkers (beneficiaries of Atlantic Records’ brief infatuation with New England bands at the time, which saw The Raindogs, Young Neal and The Vipers and The Walkers all signed to the label).
So what I originally considered kind of an obligatory favor to a friend turned out to be an unexpected gift. I will continue to give Generation of Need the occasional spin in the CD player and keep an eye on what these young fellows do in the future with their budding talent and benevolent mentorship.