Sometimes it takes some deep, personal pain to create a magnificent work of art. For the San Diego based multi-instrumentalist and producer Greg Laswell, the heartbreak of divorce was the catalyst for his latest album, Through Toledo. He turned to music to help him through a rough patch, resulting in one of the best pop albums I've heard this year.
I was first introduced to Laswell back in February. He performed at a cozy NYC venue, giving us acoustic renditions of tunes that would find their way on this record. From that one performance, I could tell that this album was going to be one of my favorites of '06. Strong melodies, introspective lyrics and his great voice blew me away on stage, which gets even better when put to tape.
Through Toledo sounds more like the effort of a full band rather than that of a solo artist. Far too many solo albums lack much musical depth, but the talents of Laswell as a producer helped open up the sound of these songs. The instrumentation is pieced together as if it came from a seasoned group, such as on the opener, "Sing, Theresa Says." Although the first track feels a bit like a smooth lullaby, "Amazed" turns up the intensity just a bit. This lush pop song has a monster of a chorus, which should blast him into the pop stratosphere next to zillionaires such as Keane and Coldplay. The Chris Martin or Matt Hales (Aqualung) comparisons are impossible to overlook on the hit in the making "Do What I Can."
Laswell isn't afraid to push the pop envelope a bit now and then, cranking up the amps for some soaring guitar moments during the instrumental conclusion to "Same As You." The melancholy title track takes on a jazzy feel, thick with piano and acoustic guitar. While he covers plenty of ground musically, the one consistent aspect to his music is that extremely well written and always accessible.
The album seamlessly shifts gears from folky ballads to bright alt-pop songs, taking listeners on a journey of his love, loss, heartbreak and healing. Pop albums this solid are few and far between, so make sure to snag a copy of Through Toledo for yourself.