Jed Ryan, P.M. Entertainment Magazine
MEET J. MICHAEL REEDS at "8th & MONA LISA"!
"8th & Mona Lisa" is the new album from native New York City singer/perfomer J. Michael Reeds. On the expertly produced, eight-song disc, the artist treats the listener to his interpretations of an octet of songs written by artists as diverse as American icon Bobby Troup to counterculture heroine Rickie Lee Jones. Let's just say that if an artist chooses to rework a song that's already cemented its status in musical history, then he or she had better really embrace that song-- and make it their own. For "People's Parties", by Joni Mitchell (who indeed had her share of American classics), Mr. Reeds does this expertly, especially when he sings lyrics like "I'm just living on nerves and feelings, With a weak and a lazy mind; And coming to peoples parties, Fumbling deaf dumb and blind..." He indeed makes the song, more about loneliness than celebration, truly his own. A jazz musician and musical theater performer, this is Reeds' first foray-- on disc anyway-- into pop, and "People's Parties" is an excellent choice for Reeds' style. What ties this eclectic stew of songs together is J. Michael Reeds' voix unique. A good deal of what makes Reeds' voice so distinctive is his ability to express emotions, whether on disc or in his live shows. In particular, his preferred emotional subjects to sing about include love and it's assorted complications, not excluding heartbreak and the inequalities of affection. Boy, can't we all relate! But even when J. Michael Reeds sings the somber "I'm Through With Love", wrapped up in Wells Hanley's expert piano work, the statuesque showboy delivers a silver lining of optimism throughout the track, rather than sinking into a maudlin or melodramatic tone. His voice is clearly mid-pitch, leaning towards the deeper end of the scale, but the singer also owns a deceptively wide range which the listener will usually pick up only after giving his music a spin a few times. With "8th & Mona Lisa", you'll want to do just that...
J. Michael Reeds' affinity with jazz is first and foremost, and "8th & Mona Lisa" opens with Bobby Troup's "The Three Bears", a fun, high-spirited, jazzy retelling of the classic kid's bedtime story. Reeds is obviously having fun singing it. He adopts an equally free and loose style of jazz (as opposed to smooth and smoky) for Gus Kahn/Walter Donaldo's "Love Me or Leave Me" later on in the CD. By contrast, "A Blossom Fell", made most famous by Nat King Cole, is more delicate and lightly torchy, with some very nice accents of tenor sax courtesy of Colin Killalea. A real highlight of the CD comes with Jay Livingston and Ray Evans' "Mona Lisa". This gem, another which was performed most famously by Nat King Cole, spent 8 weeks as America's #1 song in 1950. Fifty-six years later, it's still worthy of being brought back to the masses. Reeds packs a very admirable range of notes and lighthearted emotions into the song, making the titular subject of "Mona Lisa" into a fully realized character. Even with his refreshingly laid-back delivery on this track, the performance shows an impressive range.
J. Michael Reeds closes with "A Lucky Guy", a song which appeared on Rickie Lee Jones' 1981 album "Pirates". On the blue-colored song, Reeds sings about when love isn't quite reciprocated... and the resulting feeling of abandonment that follows. (The track is something of a predecessor to Jann Arden's 1994 hit "Insensitive"). But once again, Reeds ends on a note that's more optimistic (even empowering) than tragic... and the listener knows that the protagonist's personal quest for happiness will go on. Intentionally or not, the song epitomizes what J. Michael Reeds' music (voice as well as choice of songs) is all about: the emotional subtleties that exist in our adventures in life and love. In between the highs (desire, as in "You're Looking at Me") and lows (love lost, as in "A Blossom Fell"), there's a lot of territory in between that's worthy of exploration. And that's just what you'll find on the corner of 8th and Mona Lisa, thanks to J. Michael Reeds.