…is pretty freaking spectacular.

Joseph Leo Bwarie was in town for SXSW last week … and I missed him. I heard a couple of months back that he was going to be in Austin to headline one of the venue nights but, I just couldn’t make it work in my schedule.

I was really teed off about the missed op to catch a guy that I’ve targeted on the “watch” list, but I decided to channel that angst into some critical listening of JLB’s debut album — Nothin’ But Love — only to emerge from those listening sessions even more pissed that I missed out on seeing him!

Broadway talent with a club singer’s heart…

JLB was intro’d to me last summer by a friend that had intercepted Bwarie from Joe’s Frankie Valli role in the touring Jersey Boys show.  Whenever I get vectored toward a Broadway/stage star that is branching out to the American Songbook, more often than not I end up disappointed.

Though dripping with vocal dexterity and range, I usually find the Broadway trained vocal style lacking … the prototypical hyper precision and near sterile intonation that may serve them well for versatile stage career, leaves me flat. The Broadway set are tactically impressive and great on stage but can lack vocal distinction and a real … heartfelt style.

Not Joe … Oh, to be sure this guy certainly possess fabulous vocal control and range; but there’s no sense of hyper clarity or antiseptic Broadway “non-style”. Bwarie’s emotive style and timing is right up front … clearly genuine and heartfelt he delivers the emotions that these songs brought when they were rendered by Frank, Dean, Nat, Rosemary, Ella and the other “coin of the realm” performers from back in the day.

Great stuff, done right…

For a debut album from a young talent like Bwarie, I’m taken aback by the quality of this Red Banister Productions LP release. The mastering and recording quality of Nothin’ But Love is top drawer but it’s the arrangements from Charles Calello that stand apart. At once delicate and elegant, and then big, brassy and spacious … Calello’s charts are delivered beautifully by a 40 piece orchestra highlighted by two giant talents — the awesome jazz guitar of Bucky Pizzarelli and the masterful Brazilian percussion stylings of Paulinho da Costa. I mean, holy crap … where does Joe get off snagging this dream team for his debut album!? 😉

The bottom line is that this is a beautiful slice of the American Songbook and a “gotta have” LP. The song selection is an interesting weave of  classics with some non-traditional numbers that work great in the standards style they’re rendered.

The full track list is below but a few favorites from this standout LP start with the first number “Old Devil Moon” … Joe leads out with a classic number that showcases his vocal skill rounded off by the heart of a club singer. This track tees up a great heartfelt performance vibe for the rest of the album.

He goes off the beaten path with Calello’s swell stage band charted version of the R&B classic “Stand By Me”, and then drops into the torch classic “If I Had You” with wonderfully lilting strings and winds and a neat medley trail out riff of “It Had To Be You” … cool.

There’s nothing close to a bad track on this LP…

…and it’s hard to carve out favorites from these 13 top drawer songs … but three numbers do hit a “next level” — “above the rest” plateau for me.

A sultry, cool and swinging but still mournful “When The Sun Comes Out” … a crazy cool big band medley mashup of Rihanna and Irving Berlin (yes really!) “Umbrella/A Fella With an Umbrella”, and Frank Loesser’s classic “I’ve Never Been In Love Before” are just best of class renditions that show-off the “greater than the sum” Bwarie-Calello collaboration in full measure.

Irving Berlin and Rihanna … really? You guys are killing me … but what a way to go!

Nothin’ But Love – Joseph Leo Bwarie Track List

(VS_Guy ratings: “+++” pluses are good; “~” for meh to middling;  “- – -” minuses are not good)

1 Old Devil Moon 3:06 +++ A great start to a great LP
2 Stand By Me 4:27 +++ R&B classic brassed up and fun
3 If I Had You 4:47 +++ Torchy and mournful but classically rendered and fabulous
4 Frenesi 3:23 +++ Bucky Pizzarelli is on every track but gets feature billing here
5 I Can’t give You Anything But Love 3:49+++
6 A Lot of Livin’ To Do 3:32 +++ Sammy Davis, Jack Jones … and now JLB!
7 I’ve Never Been In Love Before 4:18 ++++ Lilting and beautiful strings and winds; superb Bwarie vocals
8 Night and Day 3:29 +++ Mr. Sinatra’s snapping his fingers to this one … great tribute to Frank
9 When The Sun Comes Out 3:40 ++++ just a great edition of a great song; this song lays perfectly for JLB
10 Medley: Umbrella/A Fella With an Umbrella 5:06 ++++ Killing me I say!
11 What’ll I Do? 4:30 +++ Berlin is unmolested this time 😉 Bucky Pizzarelli’s guitar again gets feature treatment
12 Falling in Love With Love 3:17 +++ Ah… Paulinho da Costa …
13 Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? 3:59 + straight-up Carol King number