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The Lyons family is one remarkably musical one. Phil Lyons has had a long career in Madison music performing with Clyde Stubblefield, Freedy Johnston, Primitive Culture and numerous others. His three sons have forged successful music careers of their own. Eldest son Clay is a saxophonist on full scholarship at Boston’s Berklee School of Music. Middle son Isaac is making a name for himself in hip-hop and alternative music, performing in local band the 21st Century Crew while also releasing a recording as rapper Duke Daeo. Now comes youngest son Sam, who may end up topping them all in his own way; melding pop, R&B and soul into a smooth concoction of aural tastefulness.
Barely legal, Sam Lyons already has an impressive five wins at the Madison Area Music Awards, performing on that stage in 2010. His group Stereocolor stole the show and easily won that year’s Launchpad regionals. The Light is not even his debut. His first album, Some Day, was more acoustic singer/songwriter fare but with plenty of the soulful vocals that mark his musical style (read the review here).
Lyons’ primary instrument is the guitar and he is already a master of chord construction. Complex and jazzy progressions are the foundations of his compositions but his use of passing and leading tones is uncanny. He is equally adept on piano to which the opening title track will testify. Here is everything you need to know about The Light, complete with tasteful horn arrangements (both Phil and Clay getting in on the act as well as Jim Doherty and the incomparable Al Falaschi). Lyons is credited with bass as well and the snappy figure he plays here is another indication of his musical understanding.
World-weary this music is not. In fact, it seems to thrive in a sunny vacuum; romantic yearnings that belie Lyons’ age. The lone cover on The Light is a funkified version of Brian Wilson’s “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” that showcases Lyon’s ability to drift into falsetto. It must be said, too, that the drums (played by Chris Dibernardo and recorded by local icon Ken Keoppler) sound great and the snare sound on this one is awesome.
The apex of the melodies crafted on The Light manifest in “Still on My Mind” with an inescapably catchy chorus and a departure that is sheer mastery. For impressive guitar try “Superficial Girl;” with fat, jazzy chords, a lean and tasty guitar solo in the middle and a fuzzed-out freakout in the final refrain and coda.
If you enjoy music by the likes of John Legend, Jack Johnson or any number of top-notch R&B/soul stylists, you’ll go ape for this album. Lyons, as a mere teenager, already rivals these greats and stands alone at the top of this heap locally. I’ve spoken often of Sam, and I’m sure to speak more of him, but when people ask me about who I feel stands out in Madison music I always reply that, “if I was a gambling man, I’d put my money down on Sam Lyons right now to someday take home a Grammy.”