Jay Middleton is a name that may be unfamiliar to many but for over four decades he’s performed many times with his bands at some of the best clubs and venues around, and shared stages with renowned musical names.
His new EP release Forward is the latest entry in a long musical career and, even if he is almost three decades removed from his last Top 40 hit in the United States, you can’t tell. He sings with the vigor of a much younger man and the six songs included on this new EP release deliver a wise and well-earned message of optimism and looking toward a brighter day that many listeners will embrace. Bring that all together with polished yet deeply emotional musical arrangements and you have the ingredients for a brief but memorable release.
It starts off with “Last Time”, the EP’s first single, and there’s no better way to kick off this release. It opens gradually, but we’re soon in the thick of it with a swinging irrepressible arrangement. There are subtle embellishments along the way. Many listeners will find the inclusion of organ an especially delicious addition and the horns bring a lot of verve to a performance already packed with vitality. The backing singers are a nice complement to Middleton’s voice without ever overwhelming the track and Jefferson Starship guitarist Jude Gold’s solo is a nice feature as well.
Love songs are a dime a dozen for some listeners, without a doubt, but “I Like the Way” has such a strong and light-footed groove that few will find fault with the magic he weaves. The piano gives the song a lot of its airy charm and the drumming helps give the tune a solid foundation throughout. He’s having a lot of obvious fun with this tune and gives the needed zest. There’s even an appealing amount of grit in his vocal that takes the song over the top.
“Hard 2 Luv U” is another highlight. Vernon Black’s guitar is featured during this song and brings unquestionable bluesy brilliance to an already first-rate tune. This is another track where Middleton really lets the grit fly as he puts a lot of oomph behind every word and knows when to accentuate the song’s high points. “Whispers” has a much softer effect and brings back the organ playing that added such color to the opener. The break late in the song is an especially shrewd move, from a songwriting perspective, and it’s not hard to hear this song playing well live.
The title song, however, is the undisputed high point of the release. It’s apparent that Middleton gave this song a great deal of consideration rather than tossing it off. It has an undeniable personal touch and his unflinching portrayal of a man staring deep into himself, searching for strength, and moving on with his life will resonate with many. It’s a theme, in some ways, that recurs throughout the album, and this is the crowning moment. Jay Middleton’s Forward is an EP filled with the blood, tears, and joy of life, and these are songs that are always looking towards a better day.