There’s a palpable melancholic atmosphere pervading the first minute plus of Rob Alexander’s “When I’m Gone (For George Michael)” and a spartan musical vision eschewing frills in favor of establishing an unshakable connection with listeners. The initial bare bones musical approach, relying on nothing but simple and straight forward piano coupled with Alexander’s rough hewn soulful vocals, has a dollop of keyboards swelling from the mix for added color. He isn’t content, however, pursuing this aural line of attack and it soon becomes apparent Alexander’s songwriting opts for a slow build instead.
Light percussion enters the mix but, after the one minute mark, it becomes more assertive and other instruments make their first appearance. There is acoustic and electric guitar as well as string instrument sounds present in the mix, but Alexander and producer Gabe Lopez do a five star job of blending these disparate sounds into an unified whole. The best songs are those where the sum far outstrips the individual parts and few modern songs in recent memory embody such an idea better than “When I’m Gone”, the fifth single from his debut album release Long Road Coming Home.
The arrangement reaches greater peaks as the song progresses. Alexander’s voice is with the song the whole time, however, never slacking off and engaging each new line and melodic twist. As mentioned earlier, I think his soulful voice has an appealing rough hewn quality, almost bluesy, and its emotive power is unquestionable. It is easy to hear, as well, the unabashed confidence in his singing and how he inhabits each phrase with meaning and commitment. Alexander seeks to dramatize the lyrical content, but he does so without ever adopting a hamfisted or melodramatic approach.
His lyrics are never rife with pretentious pseudo-poetic imagery, but they nonetheless boast impressive literary flair, conversational in their directness, yet possessing graceful turns of phrase throughout the entirety of the track. The same spartan approach defining the early portion of the song’s music translates well into his lyric writing. Alexander never uses three words when one or two will do and his economical style helps listeners focus on his message rather than distracting them with sideshows and self-indulgence.
Producer Gabe Lopez does a superb job of crafting the right presentation for Alexander’s material. He never overburdens the recording with needless clutter, focuses much of the recording on Alexander’s voice, and apportions each instrument their own piece of the final mix. It results in a polished track ready for radio and thoroughly mainstream in every way without ever sacrificing Alexander’s artistic integrity. There’s no pandering here at all.
“When I’m Gone” is a forthright yet meditative track that sounds like the work of a seasoned veteran rather than someone recording their first album. This is an indication of how hard Alexander worked behind the scenes to perfect his craft before ever attempting to commit his songwriting to a recording. This fifth single from the aforementioned album proves that Floridian Rob Alexander is a major new talent and will likely be with us, producing fantastic songs and music, for many years to come.
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