With a writing style that suggests early Hall & Oates on a Broadway bender and the right mix of swagger and heart-on-sleeve earnestness in his lyrics, there’s no reason Julian Velard shouldn’t tower over the dozens of VH1-ready, tousled-haired troubadours of the past decade. With nearly a decade of independent releases under his belt and plenty of music industry scars to match – 2009’s The Planeteer was inexplicably shelved by EMI – Velard has been luring listeners with hooky, heartfelt pop craft. His new EP Person of Interest, released this week, is a short but sweet reminder of that brilliance, with enough trademark style to lure in new fans and some tweaks to the formula to impress existing ones.
Written and produced with longtime collaborators Jerry Abbott and Grant Black, who helped elevate last year’s Mr. Saturday Night to one of 2011’s best LPs, Person of Interest swaps the baggy, nostalgic tone of that record for a burst of urban renewal. Gone is the last disc’s tweed-and-bow-tie persona of Mr. Saturday Night‘s sleeve, swapped out for a tee-shirt clad Velard facing a new day breaking over the New York City skyline.
There’s a sonic shift to match on Person of Interest, too. Live drums and loops motor through each tune, and lead single “Company” is propelled by a woozy keyboard figure rather than the usual baby grand licks. This isn’t a retread of Velard’s last two albums, and we’re all the better for it.
If you like Velard’s more wistful tunes, like “Sentimental,” “On to Something” or “End of an Era,” Person of Interest is going to make you happy. Velard is much less self-reflexive than on previous efforts (save a sly reference to “stealing another guy’s song” in “Company,” a nod to Mr. Saturday Night‘s closing track). But he’s no less evocative, drawing great inspiration from his native island and the water surrounding it. Bodies of water play big parts in the lyrics on this EP, from confident opener “Lifeboats” to the gorgeous closing track “A River Away.” If that can’t be construed as a shot at creative rebirth, I’m not sure what can.
Julian might be able to take on Turnstiles-era Billy Joel, but that doesn’t mean he wants to. In the 15 minutes it takes to listen to Person of Interest, it’s clear he’s happy to do his own thing – and if you like pop with bite, you’ll like it too.
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