Tobin Mueller and Gregory Deltufo
2021 / Tobin Mueller
Review by Kathy Parsons
One of the most fascinating artists I've gotten to know over the past fifteen years or so has been Tobin Mueller. I reviewed his first album of original piano solos, Morning Whispers, back in 2006 and have followed his thrill-ride of a musical journey since then, never knowing what's coming next but always knowing it will be original, fascinating and completely honest. A composer, playwright and interpretive pianist living in Connecticut, Tobin's works include musical theatre, film scores, ballets, symphonies, video game soundtracks and children's music. He has written lyrics, stage plays, fiction, political essays, poetry, philosophy, domestic humor, video games, music and keyboard reviews. He has sold his photographs to the hotel industry and his digital illustrations have been part of his web design work, but Tobin has always thought of himself as a composer, first and foremost. All of his varied influences and experiences have given Tobin a unique and original voice, and he never seems to tire of trying new things. I'm so glad our paths crossed early on so I could follow his steps over the years!
Puzzle People is Tobin's 24th album that I have reviewed and is a collection of his award-winning poetry and music. The seven poems are spoken by Tobin's brother-in-law, Gregory Deltufo, with original music providing an illustrative backdrop for the words. The CD includes an 8-page booklet with the poems written out, but if you would rather stream or download, the poems are also featured on Tobin's website, as are three bonus tracks. Along with the poems, the album includes three instrumental tracks - two originals and Tobin's arrangement of Lionel Bart's "Where Is Love?." All ten tracks are on YouTube, but the instrumental pieces are the music only. This has been a very complex project, but it's a joy to experience the whole package!
Puzzle People begins with "As Simple As Soap," a rather unusual ode to a passionate and enduring love. The musical backdrop is a simple mix of light percussion and synth orchestration that supports the beautiful words without distracting away from them. "The Fall" is a modern (and slightly ironic) interpretation of the biblical story of Adam and Eve. The music behind it for the first couple of verses is a jazzy organ and percussion track that also seems a bit ironic. The second half of the poem is more introspective, and the music changes to a quieter, very lovely piano piece. "The Cigarette" tells a rather bitter tale of love gone bad, accompanied by plucked acoustic bass strings (Ron Carter) and Tobin's funky organ. "Old" is an especially touching poem about the loss of an aging mother and closes with the line "And I am no longer part child." A poignant piano solo plays behind the poem and at the beginning and end, it sounds like an old LP playing. "Puzzle People" is a bit of a puzzle itself, as poetry often is - meaning different things to different people. The music behind it is mostly electronic and includes Fran Dagostino on acoustic guitar. "Waltz For Suzanne" is a slow solo piano piece composed for Tobin's wife. Freely expressive, I don't think it stays in 3/4 time for very long! Is that a problem? Nope! "I Want To Die Awake" presents a very interesting concept for an ideal way to leave this life and move on to the next - fully aware, in control and with everything in place. Jim Edwards appears on electric guitar. The final track is an organ/ keyboard piece called "Chaos Is A Ladder" that is impossible to categorize other than to say it was composed and performed by the inimitable Tobin Mueller. Colorful and cinematic, it's a very satisfying ending track.
Puzzle People is available as a CD, MP3 or to stream on Amazon; to stream or download on Apple Music/iTunes, and to stream on sites like Spotify. The album can also be streamed on Tobin's site and his poetry is available there, too. Highly recommended!
April 27, 2021
with Woody Mankowski