Sometimes an album cover can reveal a lot. The cover for Compass, intricate without being inaccessible, colored with evocative poetic shades, provides evidence that the album’s contents shows young singer/songwriter and musician Conor Gains to be an era-defining talent in the making. The ten song collection is Gains’ solo debut and exhibits his potent command of blues, jazz, and contemporary music idioms framed by superb production values that reveal his many songwriting and performing layers. The songs exquisitely embody the qualities we see on the album cover without ever risking self-indulgence and the three year process of assembling this album, from living the experiences that inform these compositions through the actual recording process, allowed Gains the opportunity to amass nearly a hundred songs worth of material to pluck from when choosing those songs most representative of his artistic vision. Compass is more than just a powerful debut; it’s a forceful statement of purpose propelling Conor Gains into a brilliant future.
He tries on a number of stylistic hats with the album’s songs and none of them sound ill-fitting. I particularly enjoy how flawlessly Gains mixes seemingly disparate styles without any apparent hint of uneasiness. He does this on a smaller scale with songs like the opener “I Know”, but the tracks “Walking Alone”, “Ordinary Love”, “I’ve Been Looking for Your Heart”, and “Miracle”, among others, are impossible to pigeonhole as just one thing. Instead, rock, jazz, even a hint of flamenco, blues, and even hip hop collide and produce sparks instead of unlistenable dissonance. “Walking Alone” is especially memorable thanks to how well Gains’ lyrics refurbish traditional lyrical concepts in a personal and imagistic fashion while the later “Ordinary Love” and “Miracle” are stylistic smorgasbords where anything goes and it all comes together with a naturalness that sounds like Gains knew it would end up that way all along.
“I’ve Been Looking for Your Heart” singed my emotions as Gains’ far reaching vocal talents hit a definite peak with the aching phrasing and full throated commitment you’ll hear from this performance. “In My Head” and the penultimate tune “Darkness in the Light” boast some strong blues influences, but they are closer to the opening tandem of songs in the way they adeptly balance artistic considerations with the commercial. The finale “Mexico” is a last reminder that Gains is at home with surprising listeners and even after nine previous songs, it’s impossible to be unimpressed by his command of the material on Compass. These songs are so good that one cannot help but wonder about the quality of the tunes he left off – he likely has enough high quality material in the bag to keep releasing albums this good for years to come. Conor Gains’ Compass moves the needle for this talented young artist like nothing else before and provides him with a bevy of stage ready tunes that will only burnish and expand his already glowing reputation.