Jon Regen

Higher Ground

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There is an aspirational undertone to the title Higher Ground, as if singer/songwriter/keyboardist Jon Regen is imploring himself and his listeners not to settle for the grime and murk that constitute life in the late 2010s. Regen makes this suggestion explicit on "Who Cares If Everybody Else Knows," when he laments the "war and hate and endless tears," wondering if we've lost our way, a sentiment that resonates deeply in 2019. The clever thing about Higher Ground is, Regen decides not to wallow in this sense of despair; it's merely one shade on an album that covers a lot of emotional ground. Working with Matt Johnson -- a producer who also plays keyboards for the British funk-soul band Jamiroquai -- Regen glides between jazz, blues, R&B, and pop, slyly dividing his time between introspection and celebration. Some of the latter comes from the kineticism of his collaborators. Once again, guitarist Andy Summers and fellow keyboardist Benmont Tench both stop by the sessions, and so do Chuck Leavell and Duran Duran's Nick Rhodes, their presence lending the album a sense of warmth and good cheer. Regen remains a gifted purveyor of sophisticated uptown pop: indeed, the album kicks off with two prime examples of this: the percolating "Wide Awake," which nods to latter-day Steely Dan, and the strutting "Hole in My Heart." Nevertheless, Higher Ground is distinguished by its quieter moments, such as its title track, which finds him searching his heart in the wake of new parenthood and the meditative pairing of "Before" and "The Last to Go," which helps draw the album to a contemplative but hopeful close. These grace notes help give Higher Ground a deep feeling, a sentiment that lingers long after the album stops playing.

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