From the first moments when Tobin Mueller laughs and calls his piano style “Reggae soft shoe,” it is obvious that this isn’t going to be an easy-listening oldies collection! The second volume in Mueller’s series of vocal covers, Hard Place to Find
shows him to be in somewhat stronger voice than on 2012’s Song of Myself
, sounding more seasoned and expressive than painfully smoke-damaged (from volunteering at Ground Zero in the days immediately following 9/11). All of the fourteen songs in this collection tell tales of journeying, seeking, and recalling episodes in life’s great and sometimes tragic adventure. Mueller altered some of the lyrics to better suit his own story, keeping them honest and coming from a very personal perspective. As with Song of Myself
, this recording is just Mueller and his piano, creating an atmosphere of intimacy and spontaneity. His long history in musical theater often shows in his dramatic delivery, and these new interpretations come from classic rock and folk to stage and a couple of pop tunes - some very familiar and some not so much. From the laughter at the beginning to the tears at the closing, this is Tobin Mueller’s story told through his interpretation of some of the great songs of the past several decades.
The “Reggae soft shoe” is the lead-in to Richie Havens’ “Paradise,” where each verse given a different treatment from bouncy and upbeat to darker and more introspective. Gordon Lightfoot’s “Don Quixote” begins with a heavy blues intro that continues to provide the rhythm while the right hand’s playing is lighter and jazzier. A completely different approach from the original, it paints a vivid, dramatic portrait of this classic character. Bob Dylan’s “Shelter From the Storm” is a tale of love and loss brought to life through an emotional expression of the lyrics. Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy” becomes an autobiographical vignette in another man’s life. “Letters From Rome” was a new song for me, telling an ocean-faring tale with playful good humor. “Dulcinea” is a passionate love song from the musical Man of La Mancha
with a coda based on Lennon/McCartney’s “Dear Prudence.” “Alfie” was another surprise. Played with a simple, heartfelt piano accompaniment and sung with depth and sincerity, the true meaning of the song comes through clearly yet gently. Jai Uttal’s “Heaven” is another new song for me, and it’s a beautiful ballad of searching and persevering. “Let Yourself” comes from a musical Mueller co-wrote with Randyl Appel, Runners In a Dream
, about a young girl caught in the horrors of The Holocaust. In the song, she is encouraged to go within to find her dreams. I’ve always loved “Moon River,” another song about following dreams, and this piano solo is lovely. “Somewhere” from West Side Story
ends the set with one of the most poignant songs ever written. By the last verse, Mueller’s emotions overtake him, bringing this very powerful album to a tearful close.
Tobin Mueller is something of a Renaissance man of the arts, and Hard Place to Find
presents another volume in his prolific and impressive output. More of an art-music album than a pop release, I recommend it if you are looking for something different and deeply personal! It is available from tobinmueller.com
, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby.