Michael Jantz is a West Side troubadour whose songs effortlessly conjure youthful promise and pain. His 11-track debut, beautifully produced by Jantz and Chris Keffer at Magnetic North, signals the arrival of a man who works hard to create appropriately diverse settings for his personal, idiosyncratic narratives. Besides his aptitude for lyrics, Jantz has an astonishingly expressive voice: Almost feminine, always appealing, it evokes key influence Jeff Buckley -- along with Cleveland antecedents Eric Carmen and Marc Cohn. The sole cover song is "I Want You Badly," a churchy Shudder to Think number Buckley sang on the soundtrack to the 1998 movie First Love, Last Rites.
That tune is the closest Jantz comes to the blues; his sensibility strays all over the place -- effectively. He grazes chanson on "Stray," effects plush pop with the angelically harmonized "Roam (Motionless Tonight)," tackles honky-tonk in "Deep Dark Night" (a knowing tune about the pitfalls of celebrity), and calls to mind the great rock group Love in "The Streetcorner."
Jantz's debut is a community effort: Lots of people help with background voices and instruments. But it's clearly Jantz's show; one he's been preparing for years, paying his dues in bands and spending time in Europe, working on street corners and in clubs. Jantz's words are swirly, evocative, and softhearted, but his approach and craft are assured. He isn't a tough guy. Rather, Jantz is a dreamer who dares to be different: The one rock song is "Clothes," a track arranged with style and stealth, based on a Wendell Berry poem about cross-dressing. It makes you think, makes you want to dream along.