The Grammy nominations are littered with talent. Its album-of-the-year category features what I think is the best album of the year, Jon Batiste’s “We Are.” However, best doesn’t necessarily equal favorite — and I have a definite favorite album from 2021.
It’s “Hotel TV” from Lawrence.
‘Lawrence‘ is an 8-piece band out of New York City fronted by brother-sister duo Clyde and Gracie Lawrence (with occasional appearances from brother Linus). They grew up in music, and their father Marc is a writer and movie producer best known for work on ‘Miss Congeniality’ and ‘Two Weeks Notice.’ As the legend goes (true legend), 5-year-old Clyde helped his dad with a song for ‘Miss Congeniality’ when what the movie had wasn’t quite working.
So, what is it I loved about this album?
First and foremost, it’s Clyde, Gracie, their joyful eccentricity, positive personalities and their obvious love of music. You can hear it in their voices, in the chord progressions they choose, the production, all of it.
The album opens with the TikTok-gone-viral “Don’t Lose Sight” and its catchy-but-repetitive chorus, “This shit’s gonna kill me but I won’t let it.” What a fantastic line. The entire track sounds like it could be a TV show theme song; that’s how catchy it is.
“Hotel TV” is equally as ear-wormish with its “I got a Hotel TV / Ain’t nobody here to watch with me.” The chord progression is an F to Am, Gm to Bb/C with all the nice jazzy transition chords in between. One thing though about this group. I suspect you’re either going to love their voices or you’re not. Clyde has this Randy Newman vibe about him, and Gracie has the voice of a much older soul with a few pronunciation quirks and heavy vibrato.
The third track is where this CD really struck me as potentially great. “Jet Lag” is a melancholy-filled rhyme-fest that really showcases Clyde’s voice. Again here, the lyrics are supremely clever.
“Casualty” is a pop master class in composition. The piano hook. The build up. Gracie’s backing vocals. I’m jealous about a lot on this album, but I’m especially jealous of this track although I do think it owes at least a hat-tip to the Jackson 5 (“I Want You Back”) right at the hook line. Oh, and the use of horns on this album, again, makes an 80s blue-eyed soul brat like me particularly engaged.
Perhaps the tune that took me the longest to ‘get’ is the Gwen Stefani-esque “Freckles.” But this, too, is a pop master-class both in terms of writing (the use of multiple diminished chords, on the way up in the melody is old-school!) and production. The “you know you’re beautiful” was a nice touch.
Every song on this CD is solid.
But “Thoughts From The ER (Silver Lining)” is where I was really caught off-guard. The song as I understand it was based on the Lawrences losing somebody to COVID-19, as I have, as we all have. It starts out very early-80s with its electric piano, until the 1:56 mark, when it just releases in a cathartic chorus before returning to its early-80s roots with a clean, Lukather-esque guitar solo.
And Clyde Lawrence’s vocals on this track are tremendous. The lyrics, damn powerful.
And to the gods I don’t believe in
If you can see me grieving
Please could you show me a sign
It’s the little things with this album as well. There’s a synth production hit that starts right about the 3:27 mark that just hits different as the kids say.
Gracie is featured in “It’s Not All About You,” and it’s another cleverly put together composition, rich with diminished chords and big hooks. Not my favorite, but definitely not a throwaway. This is a pop songwriter’s kind of album.
Like “Jet Lag,” “Don’t Move” gives the listener a chance to catch their breath. It’s rich with layered vocals and a jazzy bridge – very Randy Newman-esque – at about the 1:25 mark. The move back into the chorus right around the 2:00 mark is good enough that you’re not skipping this one.
Track No. 9 is an N’Sync cover of “It’s Gonna Be Me,” and it’s solid. For the record, in the battle between N’Sync and Backstreet Boys, in my book, there’s no question who won.
My favorite song on this, my favorite album of 2021, is Track No. 10 called “The Weather.” It’s constructed a bit like a hymn, a bit like a gospel opus with a beautiful vocal from Gracie Lawrence — and in this live video below — a highly enjoyable vamp from several vocalists and piano from Clyde. As much as I enjoyed the music on ‘Hotel TV,’ I am as much if not more enamored by the lyrics. For what it’s worth, this song is an 11 out of 10. It’s feels like a beautiful poem put to beautiful music. The lick at 2:25: as a musician, you just want to be part of that. Same with the reprise at the end. How fun!
Lawrence paired up with Jon Bellion for ‘False Alarms,’ another catchy, well-composed pop song. Again, there’s a gospel vibe to this track with organ, a big clap right before the chorus kicks in at the 1:05 mark. Jon Bellion adds some bars in the middle, and it not only sounds good, it’s great advice, especially for a group of young up-and-comers such as Clyde and Gracie. It all culminates in the big finish at the 3:00 mark.
‘Hotel TV’ closes with a track called “Figure It Out (A Song Between Siblings),” a sweet closer to a gem of an album. The chord progressions in this song are grown up, full stop. The switch from Gracie to Clyde at 1:03 was something out of ‘La La Land’ or some other modern musical. Oh, and the chromatic harmonica at 2:40! Perfect track to close the album, including a reprise of ‘Hotel TV’ and other tracks toward the end of the song.
Lawrence is signed to Warner Brothers, so in the big scheme of things, they’ve already made it.
But my goodness if I’m not rooting for them in their every move from here forward. This music deserves to be heard.