After an 8-year hiatus, Zachary Splawn returns with his heart on the line
RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer
Zachary B.K. Splawn knows how to set a mood. In his newest CD Who Am I to Dream?, the North Texas charms with a new collection of original tracks that sound as classic as anything from the great American songbook. He still has some catching up to do with the likes of Porter, Berlin and Gershwin, but Dream isn’t too far off from being a triumph.
There’s slight irony that Splawn’s last album was 2004’s Older and Wiser — a lot of that notion is reflected here. Heartache abounds in Dream but he doesn’t descend into bummer-disc territory. Splawn mixes pain with a buoyancy and even optimism despite a failed relationship. “I Go a Little Crazy” is a heartbreaking farewell, while “Post Regret” goes where not many ballads have gone before.
Splawn sings from a family perspective, the ache of someone leaving. Is it a parent, his partner? Who knows, but it’s fairly brilliant. Where he can deliver a heartfelt ballad, Splawn can give his broken heart an uptempo beat as well. “Baby I Cried” gets the point across yet allowed me to bop along.
His balancing act is smartly played. Splawn doesn’t play victim to his pain; he creates and then vents it, turning on the charm with “Those Feelings Again” or “Traces to Forever.” His bruises from love are matched by his optimism for it.
As a songwriter, Splawn has a knack for direct lyrics without meandering metaphors and analogies. Sometimes that veers him into clichés (this little thing we call life — meh), but he can aim the messages of his tunes like a guided missile.
Every so often, this is refreshing and he couples that with attractive orchestrations by co-producer Jeffrey Poteat.
Poteat does a solid job with Splawn’s vocals and the music. Plus, he gets his own moment with the David Benoit-ish instrumental “Five Angels.” At the midway point of Dream, the track gives an unexpected break in the action.
Many parts of this album recall Barry Manilow, where Splawn mirrors the singer; and then there are moments where Splawn’s hiatus in recording shows through. He has a gorgeously husky and tender voice; when it’s on, he’s impressive. But there are flashes where his confidence is lacking. In playing it safe, he has added tension to the album when he needed to just let loose. His restraint held back some of the potency of the album. If he had switched registers or even thrown in a falsetto, the emotions could have run much higher.
Who Am I To Dream is an honest album where Splawn bravely laid his emotions out. He never fell into the dangerous trap of victimizing himself. Once he regains his security, Splawn’s dynamics will shine even brighter, but Dream is a dazzling start.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 29, 2012.