Bobby Katz, with special guest Pat Travers – Lifetime Thing (2011)

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At its heart, this is a piano record, filled with moving ballads that connect on a deeply emotional level. Elsewhere, however, Bobby Katz shakes things up considerably. Lifetime Thing, to its great credit, never falls into the trap of sounding the same for very long.

Even so, it’s easy to get lost in moments like “Blue Eyes.” Katz — who studied under Julliard-trained Margie Katz, his sister-in-law; as well as well-regarded jazz musician John Mohegan — introduces the song with a pair of melancholic acoustic and electric keyboard lines, giving this quiet momentum to a song about overcoming heartbreak. Katz’s vocal approach combines the soaring emotions of 1970s singer-songwriters with the lightly scuffed honesty of modern-day pop-inflected country singers. His piano solo has the ruminative complexity of early Elton John, too.

The musical ebb and flow of “Oh Ceil,” composed in honor of his patient and kind mother, is the perfect setting for what becomes a very touching story. It’s particularly effective when Katz counts the hours spent waiting on the couch for her tardy son. The acoustic guitar solo that follows is a hushed wonder. “Waiting on the Other Side,” another lovely ballad, is the kind of effort that might have become a smash AM hit four decades ago. It’s that sweetly constructed. “Why Ask Why” moves with a confident gait, coupling a sensitive guitar and a propulsive piano with a forward-looking lyric that focuses on keeping hope alive.

But Katz, a native of Norwalk, Connecticut, keeps things interesting by mixing musical styles throughout Lifetime Thing — and he brings some notable friends into the mix, as well.

The gently rocking “Ebb and Flow,” at first, seems to be moving along a now familiar path. But then, as a trickling guitar and flute are added, Katz’s vocal begins to connect on a far more direct and elemental level. It’s very much in the vein of early Styx, especially when that slower, more contemplative pace gives way to a crunchy guitar interlude.

Pat Travers (best known for his 1979 hit “Boom Boom Out Go the Lights”) and Barry Richman (whose credits include work with Eric Clapton and the Allman Brothers) both worked on Lifetime Thing. Travers contributed the lead guitar to the star-studded tracks “Ebb and Flow” and “Justified.” Also appearing: Richman on rhythm, drummer Sean O’Rourke (veteran studio player and member of Sugarland) and Austin, Texas-based reedman Tomas Ramirez — who added sax to “Justified” and the flute to “Ebb and Flow.”

Not everything works, however. “My Future in Your Eyes,” for instance, suffers from a metronomic rhythm signature that consistently distracts from whatever Katz hoped to do with this moment. Somewhere underneath this too-clearly computer-generated beat, “Future” might be a lively little mid-tempo love song, but it’s fatally obscured. Still, Katz is to be commended for the chances he takes on an album that could have become a series of rote keyboard lullabies. Elsewhere, he adds an interesting polyrhythmic drum track to “Confusion,” and that sparks a harder-edged performance at the microphone. Katz sings with a conversational toughness, outlining what he sees as the world’s unwillingness to face up to its own problems. Switching now to a synth, Katz then constructs a pop-prog interlude that recalls Toto’s initial recordings. “Justified” dives headlong into mainstream songcraft, with an arena-rock guitar/synthesizer riff and this compulsively singable chorus.

“Stormin,’” in one of the album’s bigger surprises, emerges from a rumbling storm cloud with this itchy dance beat and a series of fun keyboard effects. They then form an undulating backdrop for this lengthy, lost-in-space guitar solo. The 9/11-themed title track, perhaps this album’s highlight, has a personable R&B musical flavor, with a Booker T. and the MGs-inspired organ signature and a wailing female background vocal accompaniment. However, Katz, now a resident of Danbury, Connecticut, plays against those expectations with a vocal and guitar overlay that sounds more like a Stephen Stills folk-rock tune. As Katz sings about overcoming crushing adversity, the song manages not just to straddle both worlds — but to make something that sounds brand new out of these disparate influences.

It’s a testament to the careful sense of proportion that Katz often brings to Lifetime Thing, and something that makes both that song and the album itself compulsively listenable.

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A portion of the proceeds from sales of Lifetime Thing will be donated to the Widows and Children of 9/11 fund.

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