Jazz vocalist and keyboard player Daniel Austin grew up in Los Angeles and has spent time as a member of a number of popular rock and R&B bands backing up big-name singers. Included on his resume is The Gap Band, Rose Royce, Prince, and Aretha Franklin - heady company indeed. Most recently Austin was the lead singer and keyboard player with Tyghtship, a popular West Coast band. On Confidence In You, Austin steps out on his own with his first recording as a leader.
One of the real defining characteristics of this album is Austin’s pleasant and smooth voice. It has its own character and he is able to meld it into some carefully organized grooves that truly drip honey. Smartly, he never pushes it into trying to do more than it’s capable. Favoring flowing lines with exceptionally outstanding background vocalists to play off of, Austin puts his own stamp on each tune through his careful choice of where to sing and where to lay back and let the music and background singers take the lead. This restraint marks Austin as a clever and dexterously adept musician who really understands the value of less-is-more, a trait virtually unknown today - this disc is a clinic in the highest levels of how this concept can pay off handsomely. In addition there are times when the overlapping of background vocals is so creative it’s amazing Austin isn't writing vocal arrangements for today’s top artists. On Islands, as just one of many examples, the harmonic treatment in the voices is exquisite. Not content to just ape Earth, Wind and Fire sounds, Austin takes those sounds one step further, yet never to the detriment of the music. Everything stays hip throughout.
It’s obvious Austin the composer, he wrote or co-wrote every tune on the recording, knows how to mix lightly spirited groove oriented rhythms, interesting melodies that could stand on their own and lyrics that fit the atmosphere in a skilled and well thought out fashion. To say the music is delightful, is an understatement. It’s virtually impossible to not smile as each tune takes its own time to coolly rock. On numbers like Fire and Ice, as well as many others, the music has its own hip-grooved life that seems to transcend smooth R&B, calling out for something greater.
There is, however, a problem that will keep this recording from going on to the higher pantheon of R&B recordings, and that’s the soundscapes employed. There is an over-reliance on thin sounding and sometimes outdated synthesizer sounds that don’t always accompany the music with the most sympathic and appropriate means possible. On Dreamers Know, for example, the ending tag has a weakly slender keyboard sound that does not bring the tune to a successful conclusion. The use of so many keyboard synth sounds must have been done to keep expenses down. This is a distinct shame, because what we end up with is a tremendously hot demo just begging to have real instruments, and deeper, thicker patches that would more fully flesh out the concepts implied by the skeletal keyboard sounds used. This doesn’t mean the disc isn’t good like it is, it just could have been so much better. Let’s hope a really good producer hears this disc, understands the talent inherent within, and helps Austin turn out the exceptional disc his compositional and vocal talents show the potential for on this, his debut CD.