The debut album from local artist Jeffrey Joe Morin is a dreamy love letter to the Great American Songbook. Six original numbers commingle with six classic standards, from Hoagy Carmichael to Hank Williams, as if at a neighborly barbecue in the Tower of Song. The arrangements are consistently understated: half the tunes find us alone with the talented Jeffrey Joe, his guitar, his harmonica, and his voice. The other half are tasteful trios and quartets with co-producer Leo Dombecki accompanying on piano, bass, and sometimes saxophone – though how he plays all three at once, and all so refined, is a mystery.
In its low register, Jeffrey Joe’s voice is a dead ringer for Jack Sheldon – the gravelly texture, the porch-swing rhythm, which explains why those of us who came of age in the late seventies will likely experience a sense of déjà entendu: Sheldon was the voice behind many of the beloved episodes of “School House Rocks.” But when Jeffrey Joe really wants to crank up the charm – as in his version of the über-classic “Stardust” – he ascends to a quavering falsetto, and hearts melt.
The original songwriting is excellent. In that rich terrain between blues and trad. jazz, at loping mid-tempos or excruciatingly slow, Jeffrey Joe serves up shucksy folk wisdoms with a twist. “My baby’s got no spike-heeled boots, same hair color right down at the roots, there ain’t no pictures on her birthday suit, but man, she’s sure got me.” And guess what? He likes his women like he likes his coffee: “dark and bitter as a homeless vet,” “caustic and smart-ass and fed up to here!” I especially like “The Big Picture” – a kind of Cosmic Blues for Agnostics: “I’m just a bubble in the deep blue sea” and “this moment right here’s all I’m guaranteed, I’m’a use it just to sing me a song.”
But Big Ol’ Heart seems to me to be somewhat more than the sum of these parts. It is animated by a personality: lovesick, a little bit sardonic, by turns humble and worldly wise. The listener feels wooed by a kind soul. Is this just ribbon mics and reverb? Is Jeffrey Joe really such a sweetheart as all that?
In the spirit of investigative journalism, I was able to infiltrate the team of doctors attending our beloved songster; I can reveal thereby that Mr. Morin is diagnosed with a rare syndrome – antigrinchivitis – which has caused his heart to grow to three times the normal size. The condition is incurable, but harmless as long as excess sentimentality is syphoned off with regular musical creativity. The doctors recommend one album per year, to be released on Valentine’s Day.
I certainly look forward to next year’s prescribed remedy, on which I hope to hear a few more upbeat numbers for us youngsters, larger orchestrations with string sections and robed choirs, a duet with Norah Jones, and, please, please, more of that big ol’ heart.