(Self-released, CD, digital download)
Is it me, or has it seemed cloudier than usual in Vermont over the past eight or so years? I've got no empirical evidence to back that up. But for the sake of argument — and this review — let's just agree that it has been. Eight years is also the length of time since local guitarist Timothy James last released a record. That album, Magic Summer Days, released as Timothy James & Hifidelic, was a gloriously schmaltzy slice of instrumental lounge music that brought golden rays of James' native California sunniness to his frigid and then-newly adopted home state of Vermont. Since then, however, James has been rather quiet, releasing only a single in 2013. And so the clouds have gathered.
Happily, there's been a break in the weather, at least metaphorically: James is back with a similarly chipper new record, Hifidelic Lounge (released in late 2015). Like its predecessor, the new album is almost impossibly cheery, loaded with a mix of James originals and adaptations that should melt even the coldest emotional façades. While it would be easy to dismiss James' latest as a sunny novelty bordering on elevator music, doing so would be a mistake. That's because genuine musicality anchors the gently swinging drums, mawkish keyboards and organs, and saccharine arrangements.
For proof of the record's sunny disposition, consider opener "The Optimist." Fueled by meandering acoustic and electric guitar licks set to a swaying backbeat, the song cruises like a laid-back, top-down drive along a seaside highway. It's breezy and blissful, like the end credits to a sappy 1980s rom-com.
"Milestones and Dreams" comes next. The song is a hybrid of two Miles Davis classics, "Milestones" and "Moon Dreams." While Dark Prince purists might balk at James' smoothed-out, crushed-velour interpretation, it's nonetheless an intriguing mashup. It's followed by "Call Me (Jazz Lounge Mix)," a rendition of the Petula Clark classic written by Tony Hatch. James' version of the easy-listening hit is indeed lounge-y, highlighted by electronic keyboard sounds that recall the work of lounge music satirist Richard Cheese — not necessarily a bad thing.
The next two cuts are originals. "Corella Blue" is a brief but effective guitar interlude. "Song for Brother Dale" is a heartfelt jazz piano ballad that's also classy and elegant.
After a version of Alex Alstone and Tom Glazer's "More" that sounds something like the organ music you might hear at a Boston Red Sox game, James throws a curveball: vocals. First is a sleepy version of Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing." Next is T. Rex's "Life's a Gas." James proves a capable vocalist on both renditions, displaying a pleasant, easy tone to match low-key arrangements.
The album closes on a pair of live cuts, "Hip Drop," an original, and the Allman Brothers Band's "Southbound." Unfortunately, both tunes feel like they belong in a rowdy bar — where they may have been recorded — rather than in the cool lounge atmosphere James cultivates over the rest of the record. Still, eight out of 10 ain't bad, making Hifidelic Lounge a warmly chill listen.