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Paul Hardcastle: Hardcastle 5

Contrary to what many assume, it’s British synth-wizard Paul Hardcastle’s Hardcastle projects that take slight left turns and mix in more experimental elements than those CDs released under the Jazzmasters name. A little confusing, yes, but Hardcastle is a one-man band whose only constants through the years have been saxophonist Snake Davis and a revolving door of sultry female vocalists including Helen Rogers, his daughter Maxine Hardcastle and, here, newcomer Becki Biggins. Truth is, there’s not much difference between the two projects. You know what you’re gonna get (and sometimes Hardcastle reuses certain loops): inviting dance tunes, deep bass lines, clean piano runs and Snake’s alternating warm and blistering solos. Oh, and the programmed beats, which Hardcastle was spinning when the Ibiza crew was in diapers. That Hardcastle makes it all so inviting is the rub-a dial tone could morph into a bubbly dance groove under his sure touch.

The new cog here is Biggins, whose four vocal tracks fit easily into the Urban AC landscape. Hardcastle’s vocal tracks have always been the weak link for me, but apparently his worldwide fanbase goes nuts over them; many threw a mini-revolt when daughter Maxine took the vocal lead a few years back, but I thought her songs and voice were the best of the bunch. The instrumentals are the thing here, of course, and they are sparkling as usual. Highlights include “Marimba” with its, uh, marimba lead; “Constellation of Dreams,” an uptempo (for Hardcastle) ditty with trippy space-vibes sounds; and the nine-minute “Return of the Rainman,” which plays on the title of one of Hardcastle’s biggest hits, “Rain Forest.”

The final song, “Take 1,” was written and mixed by 16-year-old Paul Hardcastle Jr., who also plays sax and all other instruments (and knobs). Initially appearing as a vanity throwaway, it instead strongly suggests the Hardcastle Empire is in good hands.

Originally Published