More than swell by Andrew Mitchell
Anyone familiar with Cortés Alexander's association with such renowned vocal groups as "The Tonics" or the "Cortés Alexander Trio" would expect any release from him to be filled with intricate, stylish harmonies. And there is no shortage of those here. But on his first solo effort, "Swell", Alexander has taken a leap of faith by combining his skill for vocal harmony with multiple musical genres. That said, he's come up with some satisfying results.
Moments into the album, you’ve already been taken on a road trip of musical tastes with the seductive Latin infused "Every Other Thought", the playful euro lounge vibed "Marguerite" and the classic crooner, "Any Day Now". You have to wonder whether Alexander is out to prove his musical agility or is just aiming to please everybody. So with that thought in mind, the album wouldn’t be complete without a dance tune. When the infectious dance club beat of "It's All Right" kicks in, even the most dance averse will find it hard not to get up and get their groove on.
The album stunner, "Parade" with muted trumpet, sorrowful harmonies and a particularly personal and revelatory lyric are punctuated to great effect by Alexander’s soulful vocals. You can't help feel it hit you in the gut when he switches it up with a piercing falsetto run in the final refrain.
There are numerous covers on "Swell". Like in the earlier "Marguerite", a hard driven version of The Monkees’, "Last Train to Clarksville" has a wonderful, unexpected choral riff half way through that takes you by surprise and leaves you elated. Then there’s the B-52's campy "Roam" given new legitimacy here with a sophisticated lounge beat and layered harmonies. But when Alexander brings out the candlelight and wine for a Marvin Gaye inspired take on The Association's "Never My Love", his ability to bring new life to an old song really shines. "Never My Love" flies with Alexander's smooth soulful stylings and mellifluous falsetto.
A minimalist approach to the jazz standard sound of "Love'll Come and Do Just That" is extremely effective as is the provocative manner in which he takes on the title track, "Swell". He goes country on "Pilot Bird". It provides a moving highlight to the latter part of the album with its deeply personal message.
Now, you'd think the listener would be more than satiated with an album of 16 songs. But there’s little in the way of B-side tracks here. Like the feeling evoked by the open ended embellishment applied to the closing refrain of his plaintive take on "If I Only Had a Brain", you’re left waiting and wanting more.
©2008 Andrew Mitchell