Album Review: Canadian Singer/Songwriter Marc Jordan — An Elegant Discovery
By Allen Michie
Singer Marc Jordan has earned his voice the hard way, trekking through the music business for 50 years, and there’s a weathered honesty in his music now.
Waiting for the Sun to Rise – Marc Jordan (Linus)
Canadian singer/songwriter Marc Jordan may be unfamiliar to many American listeners, but he’s penned many songs you may have heard by Bonnie Raitt, Joe Cocker, Diana Ross, Cher, Chicago, Bette Midler, Natalie Cole, Kenny Loggins, and others. You’ve certainly heard Rod Stewart’s big Scots-inflected 1991 hit “Rhythm of My Heart.” This list of Yacht-Rock captains may suggest that Jordan is something like Canada’s answer to Neil Sedaka, and maybe at one time the parallel wasn’t too far off. However, with his latest release, Waiting for the Sun to Rise, Jordan has produced a fully mature work of art of an entirely different magnitude.
Jordan has been putting out records since 1977, and as his solo career progressed, you can hear various trends of pop music since then. On 1979’s Blue Desert, for example, he sounds just like Al Jarreau at his most commercial, right down to specific phrasing and vowel sounds. (The mystery is that Jarreau and his band didn’t really start sounding like this until Breakin’ Away in 1981.) Ten years later, in 1987, he’s looking like Ric Ocasek on the cover of Talking Through Pictures and sounding more like Howard Jones. Almost 10 years after that, in 1997, there’s more of a country-rock sound with acoustic guitar in some of the songs, and you can hear the sound of the Eagles flying overhead.
But Jordan arguably came into his own with 1999’s bright Live–Now & Then and the poetic This Is How Men Cry. His style is difficult to describe. It’s easy to come up with touchstones: think of a masculine crisscross that includes Christopher Cross, Van Morrison, Bruce Hornsby, Bruce Springsteen (on ballads), Peter Gabriel, and Kurt Elling — singing songs composed by Tom Waits. What’s not easy to convey is the accessible distinctiveness of Jordan’s sound and approach. He’s earned his voice the hard way, trekking through the music business for 50 years, and there’s a weathered honesty in his music now. Even if it’s not your cup of tea (it can get pretty mellow), you can hear it when someone is writing and singing with feeling drawn from lived experience.
With a lesser musician, I might say that it sounds as if he can’t decide if he wants to make a small-group intimate jazz album or a large-scale orchestral adult contemporary pop album. But Jordan unites the two convincingly through the strength of the compositions and his confidence in what he has to say. He’s not trying to be Sinatra, and he’s not selling anything more than he can deliver.
Waiting for the Sun to Rise is expertly recorded with a full orchestra. It’s on a small Canadian label, Linus Entertainment (also home of the simpatico Gordon Lightfoot), but the album sounds as lushly produced as anything Columbia would do for Tony Bennett or Verve would do for Diana Krall. The strings sometimes sweeten the music, but more often they elevate it. On the jazzier tunes, such as “Coltrane Plays the Blues,” the strings are a bit intrusive and interfere with the smoky late-night basement club vibe. On other tracks, the arrangements are simply exquisite. The spare piano does no more or less than it needs to do, and the strings guide the flow of the music up and down the emotional range of the lyrics. “The city lights shiver/Like a tear in your eye,” and so does the orchestra.
“Best Day of My Life” evokes the kind of elegiac regret, tinged with hard-won hopefulness, that is so effective in Jordan’s compositions. The unpretentious lyrics focus on bracing yourself for the anxieties and thrills of simple small talk with someone you’ve admired but who has never noticed you. The shyness hiding underneath the gruff exterior is reinforced by an especially gorgeous string arrangement; this is the music you hear in your imagination in the presence of the unattainable beloved. On top of that, there’s a beautiful trumpet solo from Randy Brecker. It’s a powerful opening to the album — singers out there looking for new material should give it a listen.
“Rio Grande” adds some lonesome harmonica for Western color. The lyrics contrast the timelessness of the natural world with an awareness of how time passes so quickly in old age. As the singer wishes life could be longer, the strings elevate him and the listener to a higher and wider view. When the orchestra launches Brecker into a gently triumphant solo, reminiscent of his sublime reverb-soaked turn on Springsteen’s “Across the River,” it’s almost too beautiful to stand.
We should go ahead and call Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” a standard (as I said in my review of Thana Alexa’s Ona). Jordan’s version is delivered simply, assisted by a gentle swing and a great sounding full horn section. Brecker’s solo brings out the song’s more wistful aspects, suggested in the familiar lyrics. Another standard is Jimmy Webb’s “The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress,” a fine example of the perfect partnership between Jordan and his pianist, producer, arranger, and songwriting partner, Lou Pomanti. In many ways, this album is as much Pomanti’s as it is Jordan’s. He is absolutely central to its success on many levels. They make a potent partnership, and the pair should be getting more attention.
Keep your hankies handy when the French horns come in quietly toward the end of “Bad Time to Say Goodbye,” one of Pomanti’s best orchestral arrangements in an album full of excellent ones. The lyrics are some of Jordan’s best, too, emotional but unsentimental about how saying goodbye is the end of much more than just a relationship, rich with adult experience and perspective. Pomanti’s role as producer dovetails with his role as arranger — he lets the final sound resonate at the end of the track, fading away naturally, saying goodbye. It’s a standout track.
There are plenty of other rewarding musical moments throughout the album — the lush arrangement of an elemental melody on “The Downtown Lights,” hallucinatory lyrics that accent the slinky jazz feel of “Coltrane Plays the Blues,” the inventive chord progressions and piano harmonies on “Cradle to the Grave,” and the brief instrumental interludes that make this more of a concept album than a collection of tunes. On the title song, the poetic lyrics fit perfectly into the rises and falls of the melody, which track like natural speech patterns.
Waiting for the Sun to Rise is ironically about watching sunsets at this point in life, but keeping an eye on the horizon for what comes next. In that spirit, maybe Jordan and Pomanti will find a way to make an even better album one day, but this one stands as their magnum opus. Waiting for the Sun to Rise is an elegant discovery, and it only gets better with repeated listening. This is an album to grow old with.
Allen Michie has a PhD in English Literature and works in higher education administration in Austin, Texas. An avid record collector and jazz buff, he’s the administrator of the Miles Davis Discussion Group on Facebook and the Jazztodon.com instance on Mastodon.