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Shaun Barrowes, Big Bang Theory, 2/11/08

From:     Darren Reid
Category: Music
Date:     11 February 2008
Time:     10:27 PM


Big Bang Theory, Shaun Barrowes

Shaun Barrowes’ first album of original songs, Big Bang Theory, is a sophisticated blend of
jazz-pop, balladry, and big-band theatrics.  Barrowes’ clear-eyed enthusiasm is refreshing; his love
of the music is contagious.  While Big Bang Theory is clearly a nod to a rich musical past and an
appreciation of its wide-screen cinema, Barrowes’ pop leanings give the music a contemporary
framework—the songs are both a longing glance backward and a running jump forward.

The music takes off due to Barrowes’ considerable talent.  Indeed, the record is built around
Barrowes’ voice, piano, and keen sense of melody.  He is a versatile musician and performer, playing
lead piano and arranging the record’s far-flung musical parts.  And his strong jazz-pop voice
carries inflections of Michael Buble, Sting, and even early Billy Joel.  

Barrowes produced the record himself and arranged the sometimes dazzling interplay—a talented cast
of musicians skillfully bob and weave through various genres.  The production is deep, even lush at
times, but it never interferes with the loose, organic vibe—the record has a great live feel.  And
although Barrowes may toe the line between romance and sentimentality, his vocal control and deft
musicianship keep the songs grounded in a real world of wonder and heartache.

The record opens and closes with a beautiful, hymn-like “Intro” and “Outro,” which establish a sense
of seriousness and reflection.  But then first track “Fade” enters and the solemnity is over; guitar
strums and hand drums propel the song into funky, hard-charging jazz-rock.  The confrontational
lyrics (“Do you even have the slightest clue? / What should I do?”) are surrounded by a spinning
piano solo and capped off with an impressive vocal scat and keyboard breakdown.  Now you know things
are happening.

Enter “Hop, Skip, and a Jump,” one of the album’s standout tracks, which drives into new-wave big
band, complete with sinewy bass line, retro horns, and an unforgettable lyrical hook.  People will
be up and dancing long before the killer sax solo leaves them breathless.

“When I Take Your Hand” pulls back the reins with its timeless appeal; it is the sound of a thousand
weddings, a tender-hearted, old-fashioned ballad of newfound love.  (“This is a story as old as time
/ now I can say it’s mine / When I take your hand.”)  Barrowes delivery slides into the upper
register with confidence, and his piano touch is light and lovely.

“Like There’s No More Love To Go Around” recalls a lost urban cool, all black ties and white
dresses.  Barrowes’ croon is right in his sweet spot on this bouncy piano affair.  A crisp guitar
solo enhances the song’s introspective jazz.

Reflecting on a love that could have been, “Separate Trains” glides down a New York City street, the
nightlife and heartache seen through the back window.  (“Our lives will always change / riding
separate trains”).  The song’s smooth sway fades out with subtle piano, guitar, bass, and cymbals.

The album’s excellent second half begins with “In My Back Pocket,” a wistful walk up a city street,
trying to convince yourself that you’ve made the right decision.  A groovy little organ pushes the
bridge into some sort of epiphany.  “When I Need You The Most” sounds like an old gospel standard;
surprisingly, it is an original tune, showcasing Barrowes’ ability to explore diverse genres.

“I Love You Today” is a stunning jazz ballad that highlights Barrowes’ impressive vocal skills. He
begins in moody reflection, builds to soulful croon, and then smoothes things out in silky melody. 
Another well-placed guitar solo simmers the music back down to the song’s initial longing.

Rounding out the final three tracks: “Somebody Like You” is pulsing piano-pop.  “I Still Loved You,”
played with grace and restraint, is a love letter to Barrowes’ younger sisters—a tribute to the
changing but loving ties between brothers and sisters.  And “For My Sake,” a swelling anthem that
expands into peculiar chamber-pop territory, carves out a unique sonic space, hinting at things to come.

In the end, Shaun Barrowes can flat out play and sing; Big Bang Theory proves to be a forceful
musical fact.

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