Johnny Rodgers

Box of Photographs

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With his clean-cut all-American looks, star-making moniker, James Taylor-lush voice, and résumé that includes shared stages with Paul McCartney, Liza Minnelli, Michael Feinstein, and Chrissie Hynde (in addition to starring off-Broadway in Our Sinatra), singer/songwriter and keyboardist Johnny Rodgers seemed destined for big things even before the release of his spectacular debut. But the real achievement of this glorious whirlwind of 12 original songs is the way it celebrates artistic independence in a world of cookie-cutter artists and hyper-restrictive radio formatting. That is, he's comfortable singing and swinging in all styles -- soaring piano-driven pop ballads ("Box of Photographs"), moody jazz ("Midday Moon," featuring Randy Brecker's beautiful muted trumpet), Taylor-flavored confessional pop-folk ("Is It the Way?"), gospel-country ("Mary Jean"), and samba ("She"). That list covers only the first five tracks, which hints at Rodgers' powerful artistic depth that must drive marketing folks crazy. There's a definite Southern charm throughout, which he explores via funky, bluesy trips to visit "Miss Dixie" and Elvis territory via "Movin' into Graceland." As a lyricist, he scores best on "In the End," a wonderful tribute to his father whose images rank up there with the best of country songwriters. There's just no end to the praise Rodgers deserves for following muses that make sure he doesn't remain in any single comfort zone for too long. If this collection is any indication of what's to come, Rodgers will be an across-the-board superstar and an inspiration to millions of artists who don't fit neatly into a single genre.

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