At the age of 64, Daryl Hall has nothing left to prove. He’s been a certified hitmaker for nearly forty years, and has gone from being a Seventies and Eighties pop icon to a legend whose vocal acuity and hitmaking sense have influenced many of the artists dominating top 40 radio today. In between touring with his partner John Oates, these last few years have also seen Hall gain recognition amongst the young’ns for his popular web series “Live From Daryl’s House”, a show in which he partners up with modern-day descendants of his sound like Patrick Stump and Chromeo.
If he were still desperate to prove himself, he would have collaborated on record with some of these young bucks and created a Santana-esque “look at me, I’m still relevant!” album that tried too hard to be contemporary. Instead, Laughing Down Crying, the Philly soul troubadour’s fifth solo album (and first in over a decade), is a classic Daryl Hall album. Nothing more, nothing left. It doesn’t try to be anything it isn’t. Bouncing between acoustic-based pop/rock and smooth midtempo soul, all with a live-band feel, it’s right in the pocket and exactly what you’d want a solo album by Daryl Hall to sound like in 2011. Or 1991. Or 1975.
A refreshingly organic effort (very, very light on the synthesizers…), the album touches upon the changes that have gone on in Daryl’s life in the last few years. He ended a relationship with longtime muse Sara Allen (of “Sara Smile” fame), entered into another relationship (his current wife, Amanda, sings background on several songs here), was diagnosed with Lyme disease, and lost one of his best friends and collaborators in guitarist T-Bone Wolk, whose last recorded work appears on this album. With those things in mind, the songs on Laughing Down Crying has a maturity and gravity that’s much more present than on previous Hall efforts, either solo or with John Oates.
Key tracks include “Eyes For You (No Doubt About It)”, a smooth soul number that references not only The Flamingos’ timeless “I Only Have Eyes For You” but also Hall & Oates’ own equally timeless “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do).” At this point, hearing him sing is like wrapping yourself in a familiar blanket. “Talking To You (Is Like Talking To Myself)” has a strong power-pop vibe and could easily have joined “You Make My Dreams” and “Private Eyes” as a chart topper in the Eighties. The rootsy sound that Daryl’s explored at various times over his career also appears here and might actually be the album’s most prevalent musical flavor. “Problem With You” is a bluesy number that’s most indicative of that vibe, while “Message To Ya” is a horn-spiked track reminiscent of the Motown classics that Daryl’s proclaimed his love for many a time.
No, there’s not a song on Laughing Down Crying that’s as immediate as, say, “Rich Girl” or “Maneater”. But that’s not what anyone should be expecting from Daryl Hall at this point in his career anyway. These 10 songs find Daryl in a contemplative but comfortable space, enjoying himself and making the album he wants to make. The warm vibe is contagious, and the catchiness of the songs proves that even as Daryl approaches retirement age, his talent for pop craftsmanship hasn’t dimmed in the least.
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