Swiss-born pianist Alex Bugnon left his home in New York and settled in the American South for inspiration on Southern Living (Narada), recording it over two months in Atlanta with coproducer Phil Davis. It features a mostly stripped-down and more organic sound, making it different from Bugnon's previous CD, the synth-driven Soul Purpose, which was musically busy and occasionally quirky. Bugnon is a good player, and he puts his acoustic playing more in the spotlight here. It's almost like Bugnon channels smooth acoustic-piano legend David Benoit for a totally relaxing, fully realized CD that's his best yet.
But Bugnon's quirky nature is not completely toned down: he throws in some handclaps in the delightfully funky "Cascade" and he ditches the acoustic for the Fender Rhodes for a minimalist version of Hall and Oates' "Sara Smile." But whether listening to the romantic ballad "Back in Love" or the pensive "Slow Drag," it's apparent that Bugnon has found his groove with a more traditional approach to music. On the upbeat title track, "Southern Living," you may find yourself flipping through the liner notes for signs of Joe Sample (he's not there; Bugnon channels Sample on this track). The vocal tunes work and are appropriately soulful: Prince's "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," with Tiffany Davis' background chops, and "Missing You Like Crazy," with Ronnie Garrett, who also thumps the bass and programmed the drums.
Fresh and melodious, Southern Living is simply delicious.