Can You Feel the Muzak?
If you’re unfamiliar with Pieces of a Dream, there’s a really easy way to hear them right now: simply call up the tech support line for your computer, and wait to be put on hold. The music that plays is likely to sound a lot like Pillow Talk—generic lite-jazz with peppy tempos and meandering solos that are about as memorable as a tic-tac.
Despite a nice mixture of up- and slow-tempo numbers, the album still remains regrettably forgettable. Pianist James K. Lloyd can find a groove, but can’t take it anywhere: the songs never climax. Even the tracks with “hip-hop influenced beats” (“House Arrest” and “Attitude”) remain as memorable as songs heard in a hotel elevator. Saxophonist Tony Watson Jr. has a bit more talent and can solo wildly, but is not given an environment where he can do anything dynamic. The production keeps his sax on a leash, leaving it so that it’s nothing—only floating by Lloyd’s generic piano work. It’s never a good sign when you half expect every song to suddenly be interrupted with a voice saying, “Your call is very important to us, and a representative will be with you shortly.”
Guest vocalist Ramona Dunlap is brought in periodically. Though her voice is confident and wouldn’t sound out of place on R&B radio, she, much like Watson’s saxophone, is given no chance to truly shine. “Triflin’”, a ditty about an unfaithful man, has the vocal qualities of a Mary J. Blige knockoff, but given a watered down, hotel-room friendly sheen that serves better as background music than actual music to which attention should be paid. Dunlap, however, does get the one song that overcomes its own mediocre surroundings, “Those 3 Words”—a song that actually has a pulse, utilizing a male staccato backing vocal in the chorus that sound real, genuine, and fun. It should be noted that this is the only time on the album that this point is reached.
Though Pieces of a Dream has had a very long and established career, one can’t help but wonder if their talents are now relegated to background balladry with an anonymous face. For their sake, let’s hope not.
// Notes from the Road
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