Singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Tommy Wallach evokes the time in music history — 1966-70 — when refined, thoughtfully constructed songs topped the pop charts. Back then, the works of ace songwriters and craftspeople such as Lennon/McCartney, Burt Bacharach, Bob Gaudio, Lee Hazlewood, and Randy Newman were radio hits — no Auto-Tune, back-up dancers, or twerk needed. While not self-consciously retro, Wallach’s I Meant It to Be Sweet is a virtual pop symphony, a classy song-cycle (a la Van Dyke Parks) loaded with subtly bittersweet melodies, quirky variety, and distinctive singing.
Wallach has a pliant, expressive vocal tone comparable to The Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt and the late Elliott Smith, rich with judicious sarcasm, sad-young-man angst, and stage-musical theatricality. Plus, he has range, often sailing into an eerily pretty falsetto. “Whose Heart Are You Breaking Tonight” suggests the iconic musical and film Cabaret, mixing romantic chaos with suggestions of cannibalism. (We are, after all, what we eat.) The languid, ruminative “Misanthrope” has traces of Brazilian bossa nova, but a brief, searing guitar solo interrupts the reverie. The sardonic “To Keep You Dancing” is a tip of the fedora to a different cabaret, one featuring the Gallic, Gypsy-inspired swing of Django Reinhardt. The limpid “Amelia Earhart” has aspects of the introspective, folk-inspired songcraft of Elton John and Carly Simon’s earliest albums. Also, marvel at the gentle cascade of overlapping voices on “Dolores Park.” A complex yet accessible masterwork. (Rude Fox)