In the event you have been either living under a rock or just don't pay attention to American Idol, Jason Castro began his ascent to his current position on the ill-fated MTV reality show for current Gloriana member Cheyenne Kimball and that was before he took the time to grow out his current hairstyle. Years later, with a new music sense, he successfully auditioned for Season 7 of American Idol, where he got eliminated in the week of the Top 4 to eventual third place finisher Brooke White.
He soon signed a deal with Atlantic Records in the Spring of 2009 and the question was, what would his album debut sound like? Based on his leanings during his run on Idol, it is no surprise that his very solid self-titled album debut is full of the whimsy folk-pop that first endeared him to the Idol audience.
The album begins with the very whimsical and light "Let's Just Fall In Love Again", which has garnered airplay and also a key placement for Overstock.com TV ad spots. You will find yourself tapping your feet to a highly infectious drum-driven clap beat. Castro's always-so-smooth light raspy vocal delivery adds a lot of weight and soothing depth behind the instrumentation. The next track, "This Heart of Mine" has a Jason Mraz like feel and why not...Mraz himself has been pretty nested in the folksy-pop/rock Castro has been crafting for the better part of the last four years.
The third track, "That's What I'm Here For" showcases an overlooked element in Jason's total package, his underrated guitar skills. It begins with a rather riveting guitar solo from Jason and segues into Jason's again-signature laid-back vocal style. Although the song makes a vague reference to him having been cut from American Idol, it probably should not be construed as such but the opening line and what it means could be debated for a while.
"Heart of Stone" is definitely one of the strongest tracks on the effort, showcasing Jason's surprisingly good vocal range, something he didn't showcase on Idol as much as the judges would have preferred. It has a fusion style feel, putting in country-like lyrics around a country, folk and pop/rock musical base. This could be a track that should see plenty of crossover on at least 2, 3 different radio stations playing different genres. Another must listen track is the beautifully arranged "You Can Always Come Home" with fellow labelmate Serena Ryder providing guest vocals. It is a well-done duet arrangement between both around a light drum base, a string section and an excellent acoustic guitar play. But the highlight is a magnificent two-part harmony between the laid back style of Castro and the wispy delivery of Ryder. One first glance, you might think it doesn't work but in fact, it is a wonderful combination of harmonies and voices. Too often duets have resulted in the guest upstaging the main act but in this case, both shine on their own merit. This is a must-listen track, even if you are unfamiliar with Jason Castro's music.
He follows up both with yet another gem, the highly emotional "Love Uncompromised". Jason shows off again his underrated vocal range as he reaches up high and long near the end of this tearjerker about not compromising anything for love, hence the song title. "Closer" is as catchy a pop/rock song as you will get with the singer-songwriter. While the song itself is not as great as the previous three, it is very foot tap worthy and you might end up humming the refrain!
Despite it being a cover, hands down the best track on the album is his riveting cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah". Again like he did on Idol, he elected to tinker with the late Jeff Buckley's haunting version of the Cohen staple. Jason's version on this effort is even infinitely better than his original performance, where time constraints robbed Jason's ability to add even more emotion and energy into the Buckley cover. It might be one of 2010's best music covers!
The acoustic version of "Let's Just Fall In Love Again"
is not as riveting as the original...for some reason it just doesn't work without the whistle and whimsy. Granted his vocals drive the song, but it feels like even in acoustic form, it is missing a certain kind of charm. After the slightly haunting and poignant "Sweet Medicine", the album ends with another cover, this time "Over The Rainbow", which he also did on American Idol. Like his original performance, he showcases his excellent skills on the mandolin but unlike the vocally weak original, Jason accentuates the mandolin playing with a pretty laid back and ethereal vocal delivery. The cover gets pretty tropical near the end with a backing choral line. It's a very laid back way to end a very solid effort from the Idol alum.
Overall, this is a very solid first effort for Jason. This is a relatively relaxed and laid-back effort, not pushing the envelope like other Idols in their post-Idol careers, which indicates he knows exactly where he belongs. The tracks are very melodic in base and the right amount of folk, pop and even a little electric guitar driven rock are thrown in for good measure. His fans should be very happy where he is sitting and people curious about his music should become fans in no time. One of the best debuts of 2010 so far!