Originally released in 1981, jazz vocalist Joe Coughlin’s eponymous forgotten gem of a debut features a group teeming with top-shelf Canadian talent. The lineup is highlighted by the likes of Ed Bickert on guitar, Bernie Senensky on keys, Terry Clarke on drums and Don Thompson on bass. The music itself covers quite a bit of ground, taking elements from straight-ahead swing, vintage synth-pop typical of the era, soul, gospel and even yacht rock (multiple tracks sound like they could belong on Steely Dan’s Gaucho).
Quite a few of the flavours on this album can be attributed to the great Rick Wilkins, who was responsible for conducting and arranging all the tunes. His flair is particularly evident on 500 Miles High, which takes a Chick Corea classic and chooses to go the full distance with a Latin groove that was merely implied in the original. The result is a thrilling showcase for the band that hits a pinnacle during Senensky’s dynamic solo.
Coughlin himself more than manages to keep up with the ensemble. It is his personality, effortlessness and elegance that give this album its identity. Coughlin’s astounding range is also on full display, whether it’s the fullness of his tone on What a Difference a Day Makes or his softer, borderline whisper on Here’s That Rainy Day. To complete the equation, Joe Coughlin by Joe Coughlin could not have been sequenced better. The moods blend together seamlessly, and the set list is positively spotless.