Daryl Hall – Laughing Down Crying (2011)

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It’s a little strange how everyone considers Daryl Hall about 90% of the Hall and Oates duo, but whenever he issues an album under his own name, nobody pays attention. Maybe it’s a question of time: the only one released squarely during the H2O salad days was his first one, Sacred Songs (1980), and no one knew what to make of his most improbable collaboration with experimental rock pioneer Robert Fripp (a record that’s a triumph against the odds). Maybe, too, that going solo meant Hall felt a need to stand apart from his hitmaker act.

And maybe the passage of time … more than three decades and only his fourth album since the Fripp collaboration … and as Nick suggested, a newfound looseness carried over from his acclaimed web-based show, enabled Hall to approach the making of Laughing Down Crying with only the goal of making a good pop record. That’s exactly what he achieved.

The production is updated and very much lives in 2011, but everything else transports us back to the Daryl Hall of 1983. His magic voice is in great shape, and he can easily hit most if not all those hard notes that he seemed to struggle with on the last couple of Hall and Oates albums. Secondly, he makes no effort at all to distinguish this music from the music he makes with John Oates, and viewed in that way, this is the best Hall and Oates album since Big Bam Boom. Yes, really.

Track for track, every song evokes memory of a track from Voices or H2O, or even reaching back to the more folk-oriented numbers of the seventies, stealing the vibe but not the melodies. He makes as much use of background and harmony vocals, so much so you’d swear Oates was in the studio for every song…and one wonders why wasn’t he just brought along for the ride. But it’s easy to imagine him there, just to complete the picture in your mind that’s suggested by your ears. Long time H2O bassist, guitarist, producer and virtual third member T-Bone Wolk does appear on some tracks, his last hurrah before being felled by a heart attack during the recording sessions for this album.

Songs range from the acoustic driven title tune (video above) to the swampy blues of “Problem With You.” Maybe it’s because I love the smooth, ice-cool soul of “I Can’t Go For That,” but “Eyes For You (Ain’t No Doubt About It)” is the cut that demands the repeat button the most. On nearly every track, Hall’s songs are as hook-laden as a bass lure, coming as easily it did when he and his mustached little buddy were ruling the radio.

Even a tragedy like losing T-Bone Wolk couldn’t slow down Hall for long; he rediscovered his pop muse, this time all on his own. Hey, Daryl Hall has a new album out. Pay attention this time.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at [email protected] .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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