You might not know Chris Emerson, but if you’re a fan of the television series Dawson’s Creek, the song “All Because of You” might ring a bell. Emerson, after being touted by many labels and honing his chops as a demo singer in studio, tries to blend pop and rock with the style being often compared to a youthful Billy Joel. Even Grammy Award winning songwriter Diane Warren offered up a song for the Maryland native on this, his debut album. Having a writing credit in all but three of the eleven songs presented is definitely a promising first step. But as is often the case with debut albums, there are a few noticeable bumps in the road.
The title track is a mid-tempo roots pop song that has been well trodden by the likes of Joel and, more recently, Matchbox Twenty. The slick production is the first thing that should catch your ear, but it isn’t too glossy or over-the-top. The backing vocals by Haley Richardson and Brian Gallagan stand out while the guitar parts are lightweight, AOR friendly. “Feel like a total stranger”, Emerson sings to fade, making it a decent beginning. Better in quality is the ensuing “Nothing Stays the Same”, an orchestrated tune that starts off with a nice pinch of piano, but the lyrics tend to go downhill for the chorus. Some more piano parts during the verses would better serve the song. The effects on his vocals though are forgettable. The ending drags on a half-minute too long as well.
“All Because of You” offers a softer, soulful side to Emerson, but whether because of his vocals or the backing arrangement, it sounds like they recorded the song two or three feet from any available microphone. All is lost a bit in the mix. Although this song is the album’s selling point and one of the more recognizable tracks available, Emerson only hits paydirt for a few bars near the conclusion, demonstrating a vocal prowess that should be utilized much more often. “Baby’s Gone” is another soul-tinged song that brings to mind not just Billy Joel but even Marc Anthony minus the Latin grooves. As a typical singer-songwriter piano ballad, “Broken Heart” comes off as an up-tempo effort that would make a decent second single. Possessing the right amount of guitar with keyboards, the track is one of the best here.
Emerson isn’t trying to tear down any musical walls or boundaries, instead relying on a style that will never be mistaken for being “edgy”. On “Wasted Years”, the piano and rhythm section have been done thousands of times before, which is a shame since the beginning of the record has a bit of country twang guitar in the background. But it’s nowhere to be found after that moment. And the ending is a ridiculous lengthy minute-plus fadeout, resulting in a rather boring track. “Don’t Let Go” takes a more organic route and has enough of a hook and engaging sound that makes it perhaps the best song here. The synthesizer as well as electric violin carries the song, despite some layering or tinkering with Emerson’s vocals. “Second Sight” does nothing as a follow-up, falling flat and missing the mark from the beginning.
The last quarter of the record could be placed much higher in the track listing; with “Fly Away” making an extremely better showing than earlier to mid-placed songs. There is a touch of rock and funk underneath this track, with guitarist Steven Walsh making the most of the moment with a murky and Southern rock riff, the song resembles an early to mid-Black Crowes track in style and sound. And it’s definitely a welcoming change here, possibly a style or format Emerson should explore more of. Ending with the Diane Warren-penned “This Could Take All Night”, the tone is taken down as equally as one would dim the lights on the song’s beginning. Reeking of that romantic, “get busy” tone, the verses work quite well but the chorus is messy in parts—which is indicative of this adult-contemporary album, despite the television kudos.
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