From his earliest records, Norwegian singer and songwriter Thomas Dybdahl has displayed a mercurial quality that defies easy categorization, even if his biggest influences and love of jazz, Brit folk, classic R&B, and Americana are usually in evidence. Though he's a fine guitar player, Dybdahl's chief instrument is his voice; it's high smoky, airy, and intimate at all times. His falsetto is worthy of comparison's to Ron Isley's and Jeff Buckley's. What's Left Is Forever was produced by Larry Klein (Joni Mitchell, Norah Jones, Herbie Hancock, et. al) and recorded in Los Angeles with a dream team of session players -- bassist David Pilch, drummer Jay Bellerose, guitarist Dean Parks, and keyboardist Jamie Muhoberac -- and mixed by Tchad Blake. Much more polished than his previous records, it doesn't lack for warmth or lush textures, and there's plenty of space, too."This Love Is Here to Stay" is fingerpopping, sexy nocturnal folk soul -- think John Martyn-meets-Curtis Mayfield. "Easy Tiger" carries the same changes as Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic," but with layered strings, reverbed lead guitar, and shuffling snares; its instrumental palette is more expansive. "Shine," commences with only Dybdahl's voice and acoustic guitar but dramatically changes course by its midpoint as waves of stinging electric guitars, Wurlitzer, B-3, and low-end drums frame his sultry falsetto. "I Never Knew That What I Didn't Know Could Kill Me" is elegant pop, with acoustic guitars, strings, and fluctuating tensions in its romantic sweep. The track that most resembles his earlier records is "City Lights," with a more or less straightforward folk/rock stride with Parks emulating a pedal steel. But Klein's edge-rounded production adds an intimacy that reverses its outward projection, turning its gaze back on itself in a mirror. The elliptical, funky backbeat in "But We Did," with whispered backing vocals by Silje Salomonsen, is steamy in its honesty. Closer "This Next Wave Is a Big One" is impressionistic folk-soul with backmasked guitars, keyboards, and hovering strings, with Dybdahl's voice simultaneously carrying reverie and desire in its grain. The cloud-scraping finish adds a psychedelic tinge to send it all off on the cosmic tip. Longtime fans might initially be taken aback by the production heft on What's Left Is Forever. That said, it not only serves these songs, but also distinguishes Dybdahl as a sophisticated songwriter of uncommon depth. Newcomers will no doubt be delighted by this baked, trippy, unapologetically romantic set.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek