These days, anyone with a laptop can sound like an orchestra, and since we all stopped bothering with tape and its stupid analog track limitations, there’s really nothing to stop any artist from loading up on overdubs and assorted sonic gewgaws. When you hear an album that leaves some breathing room between the notes, in other words, it’s most likely an artistic choice rather than a financial one.
That’s definitely the case with Jon Regen’s Stop Time, a 10-song set that, for the most part, limits its musical palette to a piano trio. And what a trio: Regen at the ivories, joined by Elvis Costello vets Davey Faragher (bass) and Pete Thomas (drums), with producer Mitchell Froom lending a few bits of tasteful support along the way. Aside from a couple of tracks that feature some exceedingly subtle guitar from Val McCallum and another that adds some congas, that’s it.
In the wrong hands, this would be the recipe for a quick nap, but Stop Time holds up in a number of crucial respects. For one thing, Regen’s playing a grand piano here, and its rich warmth reverberates throughout the record, flanking his husky vocals and shouldering the melodies between the lines. For another, this is a set of songs uniquely well-suited to the trio treatment—they’re definitely of a piece, but they run a pleasant gamut from up- and mid-tempo numbers (opening cut “I Will Wait,” the sweetly rolling “Chapter Two”) to ballads (“Run to Me,” “Walk on Water”) before closing on a lovely, small grace note (“These Are the Days”).
Lyrically, Stop Time’s songs prove a particularly satisfying fit for the musical setting; while “mature” can often be code for records that are really just dull, Regen approaches his themes—getting older, wiser, understanding love, coping with regret—with intelligence and bursts of wit. (Sample lines from the title track: “When I was a boy, I had it all too good / No one ever said it would turn to soot / Getting old’s a bitch, I don’t believe you should / Stand in line like all these fools.”) It’s all subtle to a fault, but that’s part of its charm; in a genre whose performers all too often settle for sonic wallpaper, Stop Time brims with rich and occasionally downright surprising rewards for the attentive listener.