Jeffrey Michael Straker
Produced by Danny Michel
Reviewed by Blake Jacob
Vagabond is the precisely arranged fifth album of singer-songwriter-pianist Jeffery Michael Straker. Jeffery “swears he was born under the piano on the family farm” in Saskatchewan, and his experience shows. The album is a flawless work of art, skillfully produced by Canadian multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter Danny Michel. Straker’s music is sometimes described as “piano-folk-pop-cabaret,” which proves how impossible it is to label him with any particular genre. The variety of moods in his music is refreshing. From the high energy and flamboyance on “Sans Souci,” to the gentle, wistful sound of “Burn The Boats,” this album is consistently delightful to the ear. It begged an immediate second, third, and fourth listen.
Vagabond is noteworthy because of its impeccable presentation of an array of extraordinary piano melodies. A particular jewel on Vagabond is “Myopia.” It is a surprising up-tempo track full of lilting, light piano work contrasted with power vocals. “Raven” has the swelling chorus for the entire audience of a sold-out concert hall to sing along to. So does the “deep down, deep down inside of my soul” of the chorus of “Rosetta Stone.” Straker is skilled at pulling heartstrings. “Birchbark Canoe” heals and breaks the heart at the same time with memorable climax and cadence and a woefully sung, “maybe we’re better off as friends.” Straker is an excellent vocalist, displaying variety in a seemingly effortless way. His skill is especially apparent on “Cathode Rays,” where his voice ranges from gravelly to silvery to wonderfully tremulous.
Interestingly, Straker is a descendant of Beethoven by six degrees of student-teacher lineage. Perhaps the magic of innovation connects them. Vagabond is easy to become obsessed with because it is so expert and unique. After you hear it one time, be prepared to listen to nothing else for several months . . . maybe indefinitely.
Blake Jacob is a Vancouver Island poet whose essential nutrients are optimism, wordsmithery, and captivating melody.