Another white soul singer, another comparison to Van Morrison.
I know what you’re thinking. But this time, I really mean it! The funky and fun brilliance of Loverboy, his third album, calls to mind Van the Man on many levels.
First, there’s the look. The nerdy glasses and unkempt shock of red hair is vintage Van. The modern-day Morrison has retreated deep into the blues, his voice a low growl that has hardened with age. I love this bluesy guy and all, but remember when Morrison used to sing instead of grunt out his lyrics? He had this thin but pristine soul voice that bordered on the falsetto in some spots on Astral Weeks and it’s the same register Dennen occupies when he sings “they’re only a couple of crazy cougars/they’re bored and spreading their desperate rumors” on the hit “Sydney (I’ll Come Running).” It’s a song about sticking for a wrongly accused friend and he declares “I will testify” over and over until the song ends in a hot and sweaty puddle of soul.
He channels his inner Van on “Make You Fall in Love with Me” as the track begins with a horn section and hand claps. “I know you don’t feel it now but I’m gonna make you fall in love with me, somewhere, somehow” he pleads. You can just hear that longing in his voice as he asks to “strung on your strings and kiss you in the moonlight in the middle of the street.”
The music on Loverboy is steeped in soul on every track; “Only Rain” has a Memphis breeze shuffling through the cymbals. That falsetto raises along with the goose bumps when he sings “I know the sun is shinging somewhere, for someone” on the track. There’s also a wicked mix of styles and flourishes that reward the listener each time you spin the disc. There’s a gospel organ solo that runs through “Only Rain” and that same organ is used to reggaefy “Syndey.” Reggae pops up again on the sunny “Can’t Stop Thinking,” a song that’s impossible to eject from your car stereo once you put it in. Perhaps it’s because of the relentless touring he’s done supporting the likes of Jack Johnson, John Mayer, Dave Matthews, and Jason Mraz, but his performance has instrumental flourishes that gives the songs a carefree, jam band vibe that begs to be released into the open air as you drive with the top down. The bongo and string combination of “Frozen in Slow Motion” and lyrics about “seagulls struggling in the wind” and “laying in the tall grass” on the brilliant “Surprise, Surprise” only contributes to the summer picnic of sounds!
This is a rocker with heart to go with all that soul. Dennen has been a part of the Mosaic Project, a San Francisco Bay Area-based nonprofit organization, since its inception. The Mosaic Project works towards a peaceful future by uniting young children of diverse backgrounds, providing them with essential skills to thrive in an increasingly diverse society, and empowering them to strive for peace. As The Mosaic Project’s Resident Rock Star, Dennen created an original musical curriculum for the program, which they released as an album called Children’s Songs for Peace and a Better World, in 2003. It won a Children’s Music Web 2004 Award and a Parent’s Choice 2004 Approved Award.
This reviewer has fallen in love with Loverboy and confidently strides into the Memorial Day weekend sunset with the knowledge that he has found his official soundtrack to the summer of 2011!