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December 2008

Shaun Barrowes
Big Bang Theory
Orlando

He tried out last year for American Idol and got cut in the early rounds. So, 28-year-old Shaun Barrowes, who’s been actively performing since age 3, has opted instead to shape his own path toward potential idolatry. Wise decision.

There has yet to be an American Idol finalist who comes close to matching Barrowes’ genre-blurring abilities as vocalist, arranger and heavy-fisted pianist (he playfully refers to himself as “hammer hands”). Several comparisons have been drawn between Barrowes and British counterpart Jamie Cullum. Both are exceptionally skilled at mixing a potent elixir of blues, jazz, rock and pop. Both are unapologetic about their penchant for pounding the ivories. Vocally, though, Barrowes is more a hybrid of Peter Cincotti and Barry Manilow, with a distinct undercurrent of Peter Allen showmanship. Barrowes’ only weakness is as a songwriter. Where Cullum and Cincotti are adept at writing for and about their Gen Y counterparts, Barrowes seems content to focus solely on limpid, pedestrian love songs.

He wrote or co-wrote all 12 tunes that fill Big Bang Theory. Musically, they are consistently strong and inventive. Lyrically, most leave a lot to be desired. It’s as if Barrowes propped open a rhyming dictionary and a collection of romantic clichés and got to work. So we’re served awkwardly structured, insincere sentiments like “My tears don’t cry like they used to/And where do I go to breathe the air that gives life its rightful flare.” When he keeps the wordplay simple and straightforward, as on the ballads “I Love You Today” and “Like There’s No More Love to Go Around” (cleverly set to a country-rock beat), the results are fine. Not exceptional, but fine. And he does deliver one superb track with the Cabaret-meets-Louis-Jordan sizzler “Hop, Skip and Jump.”

Originally published in December 2008
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