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Tom Maxwell
Samsara


Tom Maxwell's name might not sound familiar, but chances are you've heard his voice. Maxwell, who wrote and sang the Squirrel Nut Zippers' hit, "Hell," has quit the band and released his solo album that's as diverse as the talents of its creator. Not only did he write almost all 15 tracks, but he also sings on many of the cuts and plays guitar, sax, drums, clarinet, and a few other instruments along the way. Maxwell is also backed by his old pals Ken Mosher, Stu Cole, and Chris Phillips, as well as several other notable musicians, including Holly Harding Baddour, a fresh female vocalist who compliments Maxwell's baritone flavor remarkably throughout the album.

Samsara (Samsara Limited) kicks off with three barn-burners: "Sixes and Sevens to Me," "The Uptown Stomp," and "Can't Sleep," the latter of which features the dangerously soulful Remember Vocal Quartet, who appear later on the equally hot "Roll the Bones." Then comes the highlight of the album, Maxwell's "If I Had You," which, had it been written 70 years ago, would have been recorded by the likes of Bing Crosby, Billie Holiday, or Frank Sinatra. Instead, Maxwell recruited Harding Baddour to sing his composition, which she does with a delicious fusion of beauty and blues.

For fans of Maxwell's vintage eerie sound and arrangements, there is the spooky interpretation of Ellington's "The Mooche," as well as "Caveat Emptor" and the title track, which closes the album perfectly with Maxwell's poetic lyrics, Baddour's haunting, ethereal vocals and the talented Emily Laurance's harp playing.

"Try to regard everything as though it were a dream," we read in the liner notes for this impressive debut. And dreamlike it is, as Maxwell masterfully combines several musical elements and loads of talent to create a soulful, well-structures album that shows promise of a bright future for an artist who certainly deserves it. For rare in this age are artists who can capture the imagination and keep it amused the way Tom Maxwell does and will surely continue to do.

–Robert Louis Medina



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