If you happen to be searching for a quick and easy master class in picture perfect piano/keyboard driven romantic pop songwriting, look no further than Scott Gray’s cleverly titled jazz influenced pop debut Raincoats & Other Short Stories. Like his major influences Sting, Leonard Cohen and Jamie Cullum, he’s got a solid, distinctive vocal style and is quite the master on his chosen instruments. Yet those are just the vehicles for his infectious melodies and storytelling that’s crafty, quirky, heartfelt and soulful, drawing us in with colorful concrete images that put us in a certain time and place to share his emotional mindset and feel a unique connection.
Full disclaimer: I’m a fan of pure pop piano pounding (Elton, Billy, Ben Folds, Sara Bareilles), so I half-hoped the glorious, brassy ivory romping of the spirited title track “Raincoats” (that plays with the rain/sunshine metaphor of pursuing love) would persist throughout the whole EP. While there’s great keyboarding in various tempos throughout this amazing little set, piano pounding geeks will have to wait patiently till the final track, “Games You Play” for a full on, toe tapping, finger snapping jam that’s musically similar to the opener – yet completely opposite in its more cynical lyrical content. In between these, we’re treated to more horn-tinged joy via tunes like the seductive, easy rolling funky pop gem “Maybe It’s You” (which like “Raincoats” uses female fashion as a sensual device) and the smoky, jazzy “She Remains” (the track with the strongest Jamie Cullum influence – a wonderful thing!).
“Captured” begins with Gray’s most eloquent piano-vocal expressions, but builds to a dramatic, full horn section driven chorus that may remind some of “Feeling Good.” Gray tackles many different aspects of love, and in these dark sociopolitical times, there’s something sweet and reassuring about a guy sitting at a piano, horns swirling around him singing words like “Somewhere I’ll find you/Sometimes Someday. . .I can hardly even wait/How far is it from here?” It’s like redemption will come if we set our intention and bring a childlike faith to the things we do. I look forward to more stories and fantastic piano pounding from this truly remarkable artist!