Singer/songwriter Vincent Poag has traveled a long and winding road to his debut album. After decades out of the music scene spent in the business world, the New York-based musician returned to his original calling a few years ago and began writing and playing again, culminating in the recent release of his first album, appropriately entitled Circling Back.
It may be Poag’s first album, but Circling Back makes a strong case for the notion that maybe it should be mandatory for all musicians to go out and experience another slice of life before coming back to observe it in song. It’s a strong, self-assured debut that displays an enormous grasp of the craft and history of songwriting that is well outside the range of most singer/songwriters, equally informed by rock, folk, jazz, standards and maybe even a bit of country.
Poag is a musical Everyman, inhabiting each song and imbuing each one with just enough of a different slant to keep the album fresh, but with enough of a producer’s sense to tie all of the songs together in one consistent collection.
The album kicks off with the moody “Confidence Thrill” before shifting gears with “Let Me In,” which introduces the interesting arrangement textures of mandolin, trumpet, clarinet and saxophones.
The different arrangement elements are part of what makes the album so strong, and some of the album’s best cuts also have a cinematic quality that is somewhat reminiscent of the best of Randy Newman or Mark Knopfler. “Seagull” is an acoustic ballad with an uplifting string section, while the piano-driven “This Christmas” is so strong that it should be the theme song of a blockbuster Christmas movie this year – and if it had been written by Randy Newman it would probably be in line for an Academy Award.
Other standout tracks include the blues-inflected “Mountain Lion,” with lap steel and muted trumpet, and “Lawless Lady,” written with Mark Newman and sung by Diana Hope. Again exploring Poag’s penchant for coloring outside the lines, “Lawless Lady” could have been sung by Fran Jeffries in a night club in a Frank Sinatra film.
The most obvious mainstream commercial track on the album is “Stress,” written with Phil Stubbs. The album’s current single, “Stress” is a universal lament set to a laid-back acoustic guitar groove. The track is underscored by a playful horn arrangement and would probably be an enormous hit for an artist along the lines of Jimmy Buffett or Kenny Chesney, and Poag gives it just the right feel-good treatment.
Circling Back wraps up rocking with “I’ll Be Seeing You Soon,” which centers around a Waylon Jennings-esque guitar figure – a fitting end to a diverse and outstanding debut from a songwriter who is hopefully destined for greater recognition.