When Dreams Come True
It didn't take more than a minute or two into the first playing for me to realize that Curtis Macdonald's When Dreams Come True was something special. After the first four songs, I also realized that the album was clearly one of my favorites of 2013. After getting through the entire recording, I sat there and my main thought was "Why oh why have I not heard of this guy until now?" This is Macdonald's 17th release! Why was this guy not on my radar? Well, he damn sure is now!
Macdonald refers to this album as being centered round romance. "A collection of memorable relaxed rhythmic ballads that is emotional and tender with reflections of love, hope and remembrance." However, from my perspective, When Dreams Come True is more than just what Macdonald describes. It's a world class assortment of chill-out/downtempo tunes that are polished to a chromium sheen; this album, my friends, is why the term "ear candy" was coined. The melodies (almost always featuring piano in the lead) are one killer hook after another and the rhythms and beats are ultra-smooth and ridiculously infectious. Production values are flawless. The mix (by Tony Ugval) places everything in perfect location in the sound field and is superbly balanced. Every note, every ambient texture, every keyboard fill, every beat and pulse is recognizable as being separate from everything else, yet the blending is such that while you can pick out the individual instruments, you can also just melt into the total package of each of these 12 luxuriously chilled tracks.
As I absorbed the music deeper through my ten-plus playings of this CD, I came to "hear" that, yes, romance is a lynchpin of the recording. It's not just exemplified in the song titles ("Holder of My Heart," "We Have Each Other," "With a Love like Ours") but also in the melodies which are always of a smooth, flowing nature with rich, usually with warm major key lead refrains. However, this emphasis on "love" does not detract from what is the album's musical strength, i.e. extremely catchy tunes enhanced with spot-on application of assorted "lite electronica" and buoyed by chill-out/downtempo beats that add catchy, toe-tapping rhythms without ever veering away from the overall good-nature of the music itself. When Dreams Come True should evoke comparisons to contemporaries such as Dave Mauk, David Wahler, and Ryan Farish, and to a lesser extent, Davol. Macdonald is never as revved up as some of these artists (especially Davol), so this CD is a must-play for those who are hungry for late night chill-out tuneage with a dash of sophistication, a mellow vibe, and just the right amount of sensuality to be noticeable but not overpowering. Whether you are courting someone new over cocktails in your downtown loft at midnight or renewing a long-time love in front of a roaring fire in a cabin up north, When Dreams Come True will fill the air with an air of romance without one ounce of schmaltz, syrup or overkill.
Singling out individual tracks for inclusion in this review is a tough call. The opening "All Roads Lead to You" starts with a reverbed piano line over fluid, flowing synth washes before the mid-tempo chill beats emerge and percolate away, bringing to mind the image of cruising down a country highway with the sun setting against rolling hills in the distance. Somber synth strings kick off "Holder of My Heart" and the quasi-glitchy beats and melancholic piano melody drape a veil of subdued romance over the prelude, while the main body of the song amps up the rhythms with some thumping bass. Macdonald has an unbelievable knack for writing melodies that sound heartfelt yet accessible, sweet but never sappy. Buzzing, whirring retro synths open "Diamonds in the Night Sky" along with Sputnik-ish bleeps, then the piano comes into the picture, as well as the midtempo trap kit beats, and the evocation is of walking underneath a canopy of stars, perhaps along a tropical beach. "Through a Painter's Eyes" starts off low-key with just piano and bass - very ballad-like - but a semi-lounge motif is introduced via various keyboard sounds and subdued but faster tempo rhythms.
Well, I could go on and on. However, in some ways, words can't convey that, while the literal written description of each track may infer that each song sounds somewhat the same (piano lead melody, synth textures, midtempo chill-out beats), each track is absolutely distinct and different. Because each track is structured around the same core elements, the album's continuity and cohesion are tight and solid. When Dreams Come True can be enjoyed either piece-by-piece or all at once. The main thing, though, is to pick up on it and start enjoying it!