Jon Peter Lewis – A Second Look
While most of the peeps who read and comment on this blog anticipate the upcoming releases of albums by Taylor Hicks, Chris Daughtry and Katharine McPhee, or spend their time wondering when-oh-when Elliott Yamin will be signed, MY head lately has been stuck in 2004. So, since this is my blog (heh) and I get to write about what I want (Ha) I’m going there. Indulge me? Thanks.
Why am I climbing into the way-back machine, you might ask? Well, my favorite contestant from Season 3, Jon Peter Lewis has just released an album. I’ve been listening to “Stories from Hollywood” all week, and I’m really impressed.
At the end of Season 3’s summer tour, JPL went immediately into the studio to begin laying down tracks for an album. That was November 2004. Finally, two years later, those initial recordings, and songs recorded this past spring and fall are featured on his debut CD “Stories From Hollywood”.
During the competition, my JPL fandom was all about what I saw in his initial audition in Hawaii, when he sang Van Morrison’s Crazy Love. That audition, and his audacious performance of “A Little Less Conversation” in the wild card round were the highlights of his run on Idol. Unfortunately, while he won fans with his hyper-kinetic off kilter performance of ALLC, he was never able to transcend (unlike Taylor Hicks two years later) the Funny Dancing Guy image. Back then, it was all-divas-all-the-time. There was no room for a quirky alt/rock/indie guy, except for comic relief. He was voted off in 8th place.
Although Jon was never able to break out of that Idol box, I always suspected there was more to JPL than what we got on the show. I followed his career to see if my hunch was correct.
In April 2005 I travelled out to Rexburg, Idaho with some friends to attend a concert he played at BYU-I. The covers he chose to sing–Ben Folds “Luckiest”, Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man” and Prince’s “I Want to Be Your Lover” (no lie, and he totally pulled off the falsetto) were a diverse and interesting collection. His singing was fine, his performances were relaxed and confident, and his original music was good.
I like being right…
That concert was more than a year ago. In the months that followed, JPL spent his time figuring out how to manage his career after Idol. He’s been writing songs, getting an excellent band together and recording. He either wrote, or co-wrote (a bunch with his bass player, Sky Elobar) all the songs on the album. He also co-produced it, and is releasing it independently through a distributor.
The songs are an eclectic mix. I like the chiming guitars and killer hooks on “The Boy Next Door” and “Man From Amsterdam”. That’s cause I love me some power pop. But there’s a host of influences here: The soulful “Turn to Grey”, the Brit-pop sound of “If I Go Away”, and the punkish and angry “What’s Wrong”. There’s some folk (“Amanda Grace”) and straight-ahead rock (“Burning in Hello”, “Gypsy Queen”). The last track on the album is the whimsical “The Ukulele song”. The title describes exactly what it is, and it’s one of my favs on the record. The lyrics–thoughtful and often humorous–mostly deal with relationships and the perils of instant fame.
I’ll let you all get back to anticipating the major-label Idol releases from this years crop and past years’ winners. But, I suggest taking a time out to listen to this little independent release from an Idol who didn’t win that big contract. Like some other Idols (Josh Gracin comes to mind), JPL is So. Much. Better. Off. That. Show. Wretched theme nights designed to bolster R&B divas did not serve his talents well. Check it out. You may be surprised.
“Stories From Hollywood” is now available for download at iTunes, Napster, Yahoo Music, Rhapsody, Sony Connect–where you can listen before you buy. Or if you want the CD, you can order it through Amazon or Target.
And hey, while I’m pimping–Jon has a new Christmas song–the Beach Boy inflected “California Christmas”. It’s on a new Christmas compilation that also features a tune from Season 4’s Vonzell Solomon. You can order it here. He co-wrote and produced a Christmas song last year as well. “It’s Christmas” is available at all the download sites and on this Canadian Christmas compilation. Check out JPL’s My Space page here.
Back to your regularly scheduled Season 5 programming…