A Very Different Listening Experience!
“A Bit of Light” is a collection of fourteen of Tobin Mueller’s songs, written and composed over a 35-year period. I have reviewed Mueller’s two previous releases, which were both solo piano, so this is quite a change! A Renaissance man of sorts, Mueller says on his website, “I've journeyed through musical theatre, fiction writing, political essays, domestic humor, jazz and progressive rock. Some of these I want to journey through again. I've written ballets, film scores and children's music; poetry, historical fiction and video games. I dug it all. But I've always thought of myself as a composer, first.” Photographer and illustrator can also be added to this list. “A Bit of Light” is very difficult to categorize (a good thing!), with poetic lyrics that seem very personal and autobiographical set to music that is influenced by jazz, progressive rock, and even folk stylings. It is quite an interesting exploration of a mature artist and his views of life, both past and present. Mueller provides much of the instrumentation as well as the vocals, but is joined by several other musicians on guitar, violin, woodwinds, piano, trumpet, and bass.
The CD begins with a poignant and passionate violin solo by Encho Tudorov. Organ enters, and the two instruments provide an exotic back-up to a smoldering love song, “Be My Love.” “Bring On the Storm” is a fascinating layered piece that sounds like several voices but is only Mueller’s. Backed by guitar and simple percussion, it is one of the “folkier” songs. “Crazy Story” is jazzier, with heavy bass guitar and sax. “The Waitress” reminds me of an early Harry Chapin song. It’s an interesting story song about loneliness and wanting to connect with a friendly stranger. “Can’t Complain” is reflective about how events from earlier in life prepare us for what is to come. Something of a family effort, the lyrics were written by Tobin and his wife, Suzanne, and the music was composed by Tobin and his son, Anton. This is one of my favorite songs from this CD. “Let Me Play” is very much a jazz song about love gone cool. “My Heart Still Beats” is rhythmic and upbeat in the first half of the song, telling a mysterious story about an island party, a girl dancing and drinking too much, and being raped in the jungle. The song then dissolves into a nightmare, with a woman’s voice reciting parts of The Lord’s Prayer and the sound of a beating heart. A strange and unsettling song! “When You Left” is a simple folk song that goes back to 1972, telling of the great emotional loss at the end of a relationship. “Final Words” was lovingly written for a beloved father. “Loolay Lullaby” goes back to 1981, a sweet lullaby for a new baby.
The songs on “A Bit of Light” run an emotional gamut, telling of life’s joys and sorrows, deep love and the end of love. Check it out for a very different listening experience!