Record #4: Al Jarreau – Breakin’ Away (1981)

Here’s another record from that free stack taken from my in-laws’ house, but this one is quite a bit better than the last (Air Supply…ughhh…). Admittedly, this genre (R&B/jazz crossover) is a little out of my familiarity, but most of these songs just remind me of 80s sitcoms*, or post-break up montages from 80s rom-coms (My Old Friend, especially, could be played to shots of forlorn lovers staring out windows before fading out into a rain-soaked reconciliatory plea).  Filled with jazz tinged love songs, this album has probably been put on by many a daddy after the kids had been laid to sleep.

The one thing that makes Jarreau stand out among the vaguely “funk” landscape of 80s R&B is his tendency towards scat solos, which makes for a much more entertaining listen on the more upbeat tracks. And while the first half is rather ballad heavy (but with much more success than my last entry), the B-side is filled with less mainstream offerings, all of which do a great job of showcasing Jarreau’s vocal acrobatics (see: Blue Rondo a la Turk) His mastery of his voice as an instrument is the largest contributor to the album’s success, but it also strongly benefits from the composition of the songs, which is littered with jazz-style chord changes. These two factors keep the slow songs from being boring, and the fast songs from being inane.

Allmusic’s review states that the record was “the standard bearer of the L.A. pop and R&B sound” of its time, which is what makes this record sound so dated in 2012–the album’s most prominent flaw. But what can you do?

All in all, it’s a fun record and significant cultural and historical piece, but it’s not something I’ll throw on to unwind.

*I found out after writing this bit that he wrote the theme song to the 80s dramedy Moonlighting.

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