I couldn’t resist Sam Ravenna’s new album, Fragile which picks up where his last releases left off, but is more diverse musically – making it even more interesting. Fourteen perfectly crafted songs that seamlessly blends hip hop, electro funk, jazz, R&B into music that not easy listening, but definitely easy to listen to. Released October 19, Fragile represents Ravenna’s use of music to navigate and sooth the vagaries of a fragile life that included a mental breakdown at 22.
The Lake Tahoe-based multi-instrumentalist debuted last year with a self-titled EP that broke new ground and showcased his hard-earned chops from The Berklee College of Music. He has been a side man for other artists including Eric Lindell, Cas Haley, Tubby love, and Peter Joseph Burtt & The Kingtide for the past decade with occasional producing forays. But after ten years as a touring musician, producing and collaborating on albums for well-known bands, he is more than ready to step out.
He tested the waters last year with the funky “Rapplesauce” and the reggae-dub “Samily Man” and has now taken the full plunge. So he pulled together an all-star band of players from top touring acts in the country: John Riley (Drums), Cory Hall (Guitar), and Brian Silverman (Keyboards) and help from members of Turkuaz, Nahko and Medicine for the People, Odesza live band and took the plunge. I for one am very glad he did.
He kicks off the album with a boisterous “U Give Me Sumthin”, a romance song co-authored with Reed Grimm that chronicles the power of love in everyday life — a little Motown, a little trippy, and all earworm. He moves on to “Help Me Find It”, pulling the audience in with a request to help him accomplish his musical and mental adventure. In “I like it Here” is a platform for his smooth voice and talent for infusing ardor into a song, no matter the tempo. Now that he is “Here” he follows with “Where I am Coming From”, a déjà vu love song that sets us up for the more folksy “Won’t Be How It Was” and the poppy “Let It Be Known” featuring Cas Haley, Reed Grimm and Ben Teters,
When the album hits the halfway point it shifts dramatically with the interlude “Teterlude” and then flows into the harmonious R&B romance-drenched “Can’t Be Replaced” before it stops for another interlude, “Arplude”. The tone and mood shifts again in the saxophone-led “Human Condition” with smooth hip-hop/R&B vocals that glide slickly through your sound system before they do a sharp percussion turn in “Pendulum” , backed by classic jazz horns.
The title song makes its appearance third from the bottom, but is a solid standout. Launched with a piano crescendo that backgrounds a fast-moving bass/synth lines, Sam’s voice echoes behind the music and then disappears altogether while the band moves on like a single organic being living in a electro jazz world. After a final interlude, Ravenna treats us to the final song, “Abigail”, which flows into our ears with a piano tapestry giving way to a thumping bass and Ravenna taking us into a psychedelic world of sound and lyrics.
Ravenna manages to smoothly gather together a large collection of songs from seemingly different worlds whose unifying force is his addictive voice and ability to create mood. For my money he has debuted with a top of playlist collection that I hope presages many more to come.