I have always been a fan of jazz, rock, and pop music that strongly defy category. When I listened to Joe Athon's "Portrait of the Man," I was deliciously happy to find another artist to add to my list of musical geniuses.
I must confess before I review that I know Joe personally. We worked together as classmates in the music program at what is now the University of Central Missouri, over twenty years ago. At that time, Joe was a fellow (and precociously advanced) student with me under Dr. David Aaberg in the jazz program. Outside of school, Joe headed an amazing funk band called "Purple Skunk Funk." Several of my classmates and I would often go see PSF perform live in the Warrensburg, MO clubs whenever we could.
At the time, while still a teenager, Joe was a fantastic alto saxophonist, who later played with Dr. Aaberg at my wedding, together with my father, vocalist Tim Ballard. Between Athon, Aaberg, and Ballard, the people at that wedding likely had no idea what level of talent was truly in the house!
At least fifteen years have passed since I have seen Joe, as I moved to Denver and he remained in Kansas City. This year, we were reunited in cyberspace by Twitter and Facebook, and through that connection, it has been a wonderful surprise to learn that he released an album in October 2011. So on with the formalities of the review!
"Portrait of the Man" is an appropriate moniker for the album, as it is an excellent testament to Athon's growth from teen prodigy to formidable composer, arranger, pianist, and vocalist. It is a shining example of a young man coming into his own musically. And as a lifelong fan of generally "unclassifiable" songwriters and artists such as Joe Jackson, Walter Becker, and Donald Fagen (Steely Dan), Athon's original songwriting, classy hornlines, complex chordal structures, and smooth vocals put me under their spell immediately.
Fans of Elvis Costello will immediately be drawn to Athon's deep storytelling and natural vocal journey on cuts such as "Right Here". Fans of Steely Dan and/or Donald Fagen will appreciate and gravitate toward the complex jazz polychords and warm, reassuring, sax, trombone, and trumpet lines on gems such as "Rainy Midnight Walk." Treasures such as the title track, "Portrait of the Man”, power ahead, guided by progressions similar to Fagen's work on late-career albums such as "Everything Must Go" and "Morph the Cat." Athon is also sure to attract brand new fans that just love a good story, as the album's lyrics are profound, exploring the ups and downs of daily joy and heartbreak. Yet, with all these influences, Athon's sound is truly his own.
JOE ATHON: “Portrait of the Man” is available on CDBABY at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/jathon I regret that this review was over a year from release, but with the fantastic music I heard on the album today, it was well worth the wait.
Kathryn Ballard Shut /shoot/
President, Independent Reviewer
TIMKAT Entertainment LLC
Denver, CO, USA
Web Portal: http://about.me/timkatent
Kathryn Ballard Shut
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