Review: Stephen Cogswell, Floating

Stephen Cogswell, Floating

12 Nov, 2015 Matthew Forss

stepehncogswellSan Francisco-based musician, Stephen Cogswell, release his debut solo album, Floating, which encompasses a hearty mix of folk, blues, gospel, roots, world fusion, and contemporary leanings. Stephen incorporates a talented pool of souls on this recording, including Travis Porter DeLeon, Paul Eastburn, Trevor Garrod, Dan Lebowitz, Melvin Seals, MC JBrave, Deva Blanchard, Rio Life Delaney, Karamo Cissokho, Pamela Parker, and Jenny Simon.  The eleven-track album spans the gamut of inventive and creative songwriting talents with moods and melodies that are soulful, reflective, and solid.

“Borrowed” opens with a few bass notes, piano melody, and Darius Rucker-like vocals amid swishy percussion and a ballad-esque rhythm full of soul and folk.  There are strings and drums that livens the track into a jam-band delight with Dave Matthew Band-esque instrumental breaks. The piano meanders along with sweeping gentleness and historic flavor, while not straying too far into classical or folk worlds.  The light backup vocals and hearty lead vocals cement the track into astonishing brilliance with precise tones and timbres that warm the heart and the soul without leaving one feeling empty or unsatisfied.

“Waiting In Divine” opens with crashing waves and a breezy guitar rhythm with glistening and poignant crystalline tones.  The percussion is laidback and bluesy with Stephen’s vocals laying down a poetic masterpiece.  Backup vocals, not too dissimilar from Leona Naess, appear mid-song, as the tune incorporates soft keyboard sounds that set the mood for electronic brilliance. The bubbling sounds and earthy vocals keep up throughout the song, as the song wraps up with a short flurry of instrumental mixing that does not lead to incoherence ramblings.

“Rest In Your Fields” begins with a breathy flute and funky guitar tones with Stephen’s laidback vocals and jazzy percussion backed by beautiful melodies that carry the choruses into heavenly bliss.  The earthy flute, jazzy percussion, and alternative folk stylings are very contemporary overall with a nod to neo-classical and breezy, Brazilian melodies and rhythms.  The gurgling guitar vibes and sweet vocals make it enjoyable and easy to digest.

“Whale Song” begins with a few swishy percussive cymbals and a few vocals that quickly dive into an ocean of uppity, bluesy, and folksy veins that are more country than urban.  The choruses are ripe with folksy instrumentation that picks up tempo and returns back to a slower, tempo between choruses.  The choruses also contain faster vocals.  The instrumental result is slightly gospel-esque with wild piano melodies, fast plucking and strumming, and twangy tones that resemble the instrumentation of Australia’s Xavier Rudd.  Still, the tune is diverse and a welcome addition to the album.

“The One” begins with a jazzy bass line, spoken words early on, and a swaying, yet funky, jazz melody.  There are funky horns, a steady percussive beat, rootsy keys, and female backup singers for a truly engaging result.  The heady grooves are island-friendly and slightly urban in tone.  For instance, there is a short rap part mid-song.  There is a gospel vein (and message) to the song with extended instrumental breaks, repeats, and backup singers that do not disappoint.

Stephen Cogswell is a remarkable singer and songwriter with a knack for creating island beats and breezy tunes that are not too unlike music by Xavier Rudd, Dave Matthews, Jack Johnson, and even Darius Rucker.  There is a mix of guitar stylings, folksy strings, jazzy and bluesy percussion, and rootsy keyboards that result in an enthralling recording of intense beauty.  The flowing piano melodies are not too overt and help focus the tracks in a rewarding fashion.  The vocals are strong, poetic, and earthy throughout.  It is tough to find any missteps here, because there are none.  If a beach had a soundtrack: Floating would be the answer.
Review by Matthew Forss
Rating: 5 Stars (out of 5)