Ernie Halter

Congress Hotel

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When Ernie Halter released his debut, Lo-Fidelity, in 2005, it was obvious that his voice was an extraordinary instrument, but the recording lived up to its name -- just Halter's pipes and acoustic guitar, dicey, distant-sounding two-track recording -- and it was not yet possible to ascertain just what he had in him. Congress Hotel is more like it. Here the Southern Californian works with a full complement of musicians (including a delicious Hammond organ on most tracks) that expose the range of his smooth, soulful singing. And soul is the key word here: like John Mayer and James Hunter, Halter draws from the best of the classic R&B generation (Stevie Wonder is an especially prominent influence, his phrasing apparent in several of Halter's songs), but there's an equally significant nod to the classic rock of Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello (whose drummer, Pete Thomas, is present here) and Billy Joel in the pop-ish arrangements. Halter is an easygoing sort, not a shouter, and his songs -- there's a preponderance of simple declarations of love -- don't always say a lot. But his vocal delivery is so convincing, and these tunes so appealing, that it seems like he's saying a lot anyway.

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