Chris Ronald keeps it simple on Turning Tides
Turning Tides (Independent)
Every once in a while you bump into a local artist who makes you wonder where his obvious talent has been hiding for so long. English-born Vancouverite Chris Ronald is one of those. His beautifully clear tenor voice instantly makes him sound like an old friend you forgot you knew. But that would only be a pleasant feature if he didn’t write such great songs.
There are no American Idol barnburners on Turning Tides, just a lot of catchy, strum-happy numbers in the ’70s singer-songwriter tradition. Certainly, extra-smooth voices from that era, such as Jackson Browne, Marc Jordan, Stephen Bishop, and the late Kenny Rankin, come to mind on acoustically driven ditties such as the opening (and closing) “Sunshine” and the breezy “Sailing From Nanaimo”. But the spare, self-produced record isn’t particularly retro. Songs like the relatively lush “So Long” and “Home to Roost”, with their moody keyboard interludes and stacked male harmonies, fit in with contemporary indie sounds. And the showstopping “Please Don’t Come for Me Now” has the Celtic tug of the Swell Season—although when pianist Kamile Kapel adds her vocals on “Let Her Go”, the feel is more country, albeit in the Richard and Linda Thompson direction.
These comparisons are misleading, since the album—his second, but the first to be widely available—stands as a well-integrated program of refreshingly original, unguardedly personal compositions. Some of the arrangements, centred on the artist’s basic guitar and occasional plaintive harmonica, could be a little more complex. (The only other thing the album really needs is a new cover; its murky Photoshop package makes this look like a John Tesh throwaway side project.) In any case, the music’s simplicity keeps clutter away from that glorious voice.