There is no denying that Luke Winslow-King (LWK) can craft a melody. As a classically-trained musician who is as equally steeped in Brahms as he is in Count Basie, it’s obvious that the man knows what he’s doing. The sticking point is in the style of music he has chosen to play: Cajun blues, or jazz, or pop blues or whatever this style of music is officially called, that takes the painfully smooth vocal stylings of John Mayer and mixes them with music that has all the trappings of vintage New Orleans, albeit sanitized through a digital lens. Yes, it is perfectly done and everyone involved is an A-level player, but it comes off as incredibly smug and screams to be played as background music at Starbucks nationwide. You can almost hear the steam burst from the espresso machine as the record begins.
The opening/title cut, “The Coming Tide” adds a “jazzy” drumbeat behind what is an attempt to update an old-timey track with a repeated verse and a great guitar performance. The cherry on top is a female vocal track that, like everything on here, is perfect. There is a female vocal sound that has become popular since the arrival of Norah Jones — you know that sound — which can be positively grating after hearing every woman try and ape it. Well, here it is in its glory. It seems strange knocking someone who sings so beautifully, but the artifice of it is so in your face that it’s tough to stomach it.
The rest of Tide progresses in similar style. Every track is perfectly executed. LWK’s voice is pleasing. The tones of every instrument are shiny. It all adds up to a record that can be best be described as “crowd-pleasing.” Like Norah Jones, this record takes music that was historically Black and files down every edge and buffs it till you’re left with a simulacrum of the original. Who likes music that is so perfect and dull? With a recent write-up in the New York Times, LWK seems poised on the precipice of stardom, following in the footsteps of other musical torture artists like Harry Connick, Jr. and Michael Bublé. Here’s hoping that after a few knocks on the road, LWK can produce a record that is grittier and rougher than this polished stone.