Until now, my experience of Tobin Mueller is as an artist who communicates his thoughts and ideas through instrumental music. This can often be a more exciting form of dialogue with the listener, one that talks in moods, emotions, feelings and energies. One that is as much about the receiver’s interpretation as it is about the creator’s intentions. It is a subtle and fluid conversation that can mean many things to many people and is often not bound by what the artist behind the music first had in mind when writing the piece.

Volume 4, as the titular by-line indicates, offers a new and more revealing side to Tobin’s work. Music with a vocal component is a whole different affair. Guided by the song’s words, it gently takes you by the hand and draws you to certain conclusions, showing through direct communication what the artist is truly talking about. Both are valid forms of expression, but considering that, up until now at least, I have only known the artist through his instrumental output, Volume 4, Vocals, is undoubtedly an exciting prospect.

As Before There Were Gods opens the album up, you realise that Tobin Mueller has a great voice, certainly not that of a man who has chosen to lean more towards the instrumental. It is softly spoken and warm, perfect for sitting on top of music that errs on the side of the sweet, softer and slightly understated music, as is found here.

One of the great things about an album where the vocal component rather than the genre is the common factor is that this is an album that wanders across sound and style. And so we are faced with all manner of music.

Door To My Heart is a heartfelt piano and vocals piece, the sound of the iconic piano jazz bar updated and re-invented for the modern age and Pilgrim of The Great Return is a gorgeous piece, the energy coming from his son Anton’s acoustic rhythms, the melodic agility coming from Woody Mankowski’s wonderfully wandering soprano saxophone and the vocals running through the middle, bringing everything together.

And, of course, vocals enable you to make specific points rather than paint general sentiments. These vary from the more universal ideas of love which are found running through the album, the subtly political I Will Love, a song that is both soul searching and a slice of social commentary, of the loss spoken about in When You Left, to more intense personal experiences, such as New Holy Land, which encapsulates Tobin Mueller’s feelings and experiences of working as part of the relief effort in the wake of 9/11. Even the idea of being able to talk about your life in song, of music as redemption, singing as a celebration, is explored brilliantly in the gently funky When I Sing.

If Tobin Mueller makes albums with a lot of depth, forged of deftly wrought musical lines, albums with sonic intrigue and rewards garnered from numerous replays, then Vocals is the album where the lyrical component adds one more layer to enjoy, and for reviewers like myself, one more level to explore in his already intricate and intriguing music.

Previous articleGrass is Greener – Mike Kennedy (reviewed by Dave Franklin)
Next articleFOMO – Dan Krochmal (reviewed by Dave Franklin)
Musician, scribbler, historian, gnostic, seeker of enlightenment, asker of the wrong questions, delver into the lost archives, fugitive from the law of averages, blogger, quantum spanner, left footed traveller, music journalist, zenarchist, freelance writer, reviewer and gemini. People have woken up to worse.


Leave a Reply