It's rare that
an artist arrives onto the pop music scene so fully loaded with
the kind of hit-making potential that singer-composer-guitarist
Raúl Midón possesses. The New Mexico-born, New York-based
Midón makes his recording debut with State of Mind, produced
by Arif Mardin and Joe Mardin for Manhattan Records. The 13-track
collection of Midón originals is a remarkable mélange
of soul, R&B, pop, folk, jazz and Latin. The CD places on
display his earnest, lyrical songwriting; full-bodied vocals steeped
in soul; a singular syncopated, flamenco- and jazz-infused acoustic
guitar style; a unique vocal trumpet improvisation; and hopeful
While you can hear traces of Donny Hathaway,
Stevie Wonder, Jose Feliciano and, Richie Havens in his music,
Midón is an extraordinary original whose passion is expressed
in his indelible songs. "I like to celebrate the possible,
the highest, the best of possibilities for human beings,"
says Midón, who has been blind since birth and is the son
of an African American mother and an Argentinean father. "It's
easy to be pessimistic given the state of the world. But I'm inspired
by people like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi who had the
ability to transform. Collectively we create an enormously powerful
force that can change the world and overcome any obstacle."
As for working with the Mardins, Midón
says, "We're coming from the same place. Arif is really into
melody and comes from a jazz background, but with a firm foot
in pop. I love good melodies and lyrical hooks, but I'm also musically
trying to play something interesting. Joe is versed in all aspects
of the recording process, from the notes to the sounds. That is
to say he knows what mic to use to get a particular kind of guitar
sound. He has the vision, discipline and training to bring out
the best in the studio and you know that when you are done you
will have something that sounds superb."
State of Mind is a revelation. The
CD not only trains the spotlight on Midón's buoyant delivery,
but also boasts a guest roster featuring Stevie Wonder (a guest
harmonica performance on "Expressions of Love") and
Jason Mraz (a vocal duet on their collaborative song, the reggae-inflected
"Keep on Hoping"). In addition there are contributions
from Latin jazz flutist Dave Valentin and percussionist Sammy
Figueroa (on the Afro-Cuban sizzling "I Would Do Anything."),
harmonica ace Gregoire Maret and percussionist Cyro Baptista (on
the exuberant "Sunshine") and jazz vibraphonist Stefon
Harris, who performs on the sublime "All in Your Mind."
This last song is Midón's way of opening a window on what
it's like to be blind. "I wrote 'All in Your Mind' to talk
about how, when you're blind, you perceive everything through
Even before he entered the studio with the
Mardins, Midón was accumulating the kind of accolades reserved
for seasoned pros. The New York Times called him a "virtuoso,"
while Newsday heralded him as a showstopper. The Washington Post
commented that Midón's "style is a febrile amalgam
of Stevie Wonder vocals, feel-good pop songwriting, sophisticated
jazz harmonies and a ferociously aggressive way of playing acoustic
Midón followed college in Miami with
a career there as a solo artist and studio background vocalist
in the Latin music arena. Midón moved to New York in 2002,
where he began performing in clubs. Work with DJ/producer Little
Louie Vega resulted in international gigs and the album Elements
of Life. After performing Stevie Wonder's "Make Sure You're
Sure" at Carnegie Hall for the concert "The Movie Music
of Spike Lee and Terence Blanchard," he contributed one of
his own songs to the score of Lee's film She Hate Me.
However, Midón hastens to note that
his move from Miami to New York was fraught with risks. "I
gave up the Miami studio and club gigs, some of which were glamorous.
I wanted to make it on my own in New York, which is such a hotbed
for music of all types. But that meant that all of a sudden I
was doing pass-the-hat solo performances in small clubs. It wasn't
easy and people thought I was crazy, but I felt that I needed
to. If I didn't, I would be forever asking myself, what if I had
tried? Sure, I had some breaks, but the night after Carnegie Hall
I was back playing in a club."
But when opportunity knocked, Midón
answered. He's opened for world music diva Cesaria Evora, and
performed opening honors for guitar hero Jeff Beck (who said afterward,
"It's refreshing to see that there's still talent out there.
I'm a fan."). After being turned onto Midón via a
Kennedy Center performance viewed over the Internet, Jason Mraz
enlisted him for his 2004 acoustic Tour of the Curbside Prophets.
In city after city, Mraz's young audiences were entranced with
Midón's songs and style.
A different kind of audience‹older, more
in tune with '70s and '80s pop‹was wowed by Midón's
opening set for Michael McDonald's performance at the Beacon late
last year. His voice soared, his trumpet vocals provided rich
harmonies, and he grabbed, slapped, clawed, beat his six-string
acoustic with a percussive, harmonics-sprinkled attack. The crowd
was hushed for Midón's solo appearance, and he received
a standing ovation. "I've played for very diverse crowds,"
he says. "I hope to speak to all ages with the new album."
Midón traces his own beginnings back
to the tiny town of Embudo, N.M., north of Santa Fe on Route 68.
His Argentinean-born father was a professional dancer who left
home at 17 and danced his way through the U.S. before settling
down in New Mexico with his New York-born wife (who died when
Raúl and his identical twin brother were very young).
"Very early on I knew I wanted to play
music," Midón says. "I'd be riding in a car and
I'd listen to the rhythm of the turn signal. I heard music in
everything, from a car horn to the crickets."
As a child, Midón was initially attracted
to the percussive native folk music of Argentina (his first instrument
was drums). After becoming fascinated with his dad's collection
of Charlie Parker and Miles Davis records, he began to explore
jazz, and later the pop music of the day (James Taylor, Joni Mitchell,
Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder).
Meanwhile, Midón was taking guitar lessons
from a flamenco player. He later turned to classical, then jazz
guitar. He notes, "The way I play today is an amalgam of
all those styles, mixed with my fascination with the great rock
and blues guitarists like Eric Clapton and B.B. King. Today, Midón
says, his guitar style‹more muscular and assertive than
folksy and quiet‹is still evolving. "I'm constantly
trying to integrate everything I know musically into the guitar.
I'm trying to make it sound like an orchestra."
State of Mind opens with the rousing
title track, a tune about Midón's first months as a struggling
musician in New York, with mouth trumpet and guitar harmonies.
Other numbers include the spirited "Everybody" (written
as an empowerment response to the heroes of 9/11), the radio-friendly
soul/R & B vibed "If You're Gonna Leave," the romantic
pop melody "Mystery Girl," the flamenco-inflected "Never
Get Enough," the balladic beauty "Suddenly," and
the love song "Waited All My Life," which Midón
wrote for his wife. Another dedicated song is the brisk and bright
"Sittin' in the Middle," written and sung in tribute
to Donny Hathaway.
The overarching sensibility of Raúl Midón's auspicious
premiere, State of Mind, is a sunny optimism‹that despite
the dark days there is a light. "Part of our mission as artists,
besides entertaining," Midón says, " is to say
something positive, without preaching, to our audience, whether
it numbers in the hundreds or millions."