New Mexico-born, New York-based Raul Midon is one of those artists whose style encompasses many different genres to make a fairly unique sound. The singer-songwriter/guitarist takes his vocal cues from R&B legends like Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway, and the easiest classification for him would be in the “neo-soul” category. With that said, his soothing acoustic guitar playing calls to mind folk-rock artists like James Taylor, while his peppy (or at least upbeat) lyrics and his predilection for imitating horn sounds with his mouth (hey, that’s one way to save money on studio musicians) will bring to mind jazz-pop artists like Bobby McFerrin and Al Jarreau.
While I’m not sure that Midon will ever reach the commercial or artistic heights as most of the artists previously mentioned, he’s quite talented in his own right. He was certainly talented enough to catch the ear of the legendary Arif Mardin, the producing legend who’s been behind the boards for everyone from Aretha Franklin and the Bee Gees to Chaka Khan and Norah Jones. Mardin and his son Joe were also behind the boards for Midon’s pleasant 2005 debut, State of Mind. It wound up being one of the last projects Mardin worked on before his death last year.
A World Within a World, Midon’s sophomore release, suffers none from the elder Mardin’s unfortunate absence. Both albums share the same easygoing soul/jazz/folk hybrid sound. Midon’s lyrical content remains decidedly upbeat (seriously, this guy could be the entertainment for an Up With People convention), and the arrangements remain smooth, with contemporary jazz and classic soul still the two genres Midon and Mardin draw from most heavily. This album is also good enough that you don’t miss the stunt casting of artists like Wonder and Jason Mraz on Midon’s debut.
While there’s no single track that jumps out at you as a winner, A World Within a World is one of those albums that you can put on and not have to get up to skip a single track. It’s got a laid back, almost autumnal feel to it that makes it perfect for this time of year. Midon’s positive lyrics might get tagged by some as cheesy, but much like his hero Stevie, there’s a certain sincerity in those lyrics that gets him over. The easygoing sway of “All Because of You” has enough of a passing resemblance to contemporary R&B that it could very easily be a quality offering on Adult R&B radio. It certainly sounds more like a hit single than anything else on the album, which is not an insult at all. Meanwhile, current single “Pick Somebody Up” has the distinction of being the album’s most danceable. It’s the type of song that gets your day started off on the right foot.
This 10-song set touches on various genres of music, but doesn’t sound cluttered or unfocused. The album itself flows effortlessly and tightly. Midon remains an engaging vocalist whether he’s indulging in Take 6-style acapella grooves (“Ain’t Happened Yet”), incorporating a slight rock influence into his work (“The More That I Know”), or incorporating his Latin heritage into his music (he’s half Argentinian). The Spanish-language tracks “Tembererana” and “Caminando” are just as good, if not better, than anything else on the album.
Although this album will probably not do much to make Midon a superstar, it will certainly do its part to reinforce his place among the line of underappreciated soul singers, along with artists like Rahsaan Patterson and Donnie. A World Within a World is yet another reminder of the good music you’ll find once you dig deeper than what you hear on the radio.