What do Robert Randolph, world-famous producer Tommy Marolda and supergroup Asia all have in common? Well, Sammy Flow, of course. That’s right, not only has this next New Jersey artist shared the stage with Robert Randolph, but he’s also scheduled to join Asia—those “Monsters Of Rock” that penned the mega-hit, “Heat Of The Moment”—on a stage in New Hope, PA at Havana on Sept. 26. His website also includes strong praise by the guy who was involved with my current favorite series of movies. Tommy Marolda is well known for his addictive work on The Expendables, a star-studded action series that’s heading into movie number four. Marolda has also worked on the Rocky franchise, and with musical aficionados The Killers, Rod Stewart, Cher and Richie Sambora to name a select few.
Marolda’s enthusiasm shines bright as he states on Flow’s page, “Sammy is amazing…what a joy to work with someone this talented. I’ve been searching for Sammy’s voice my entire life…now all it needs is just one hit song. … We have received so many requests for Sammy Flow’s sound, and it just isn’t out there. I’ll be co-writing with Sammy to help him further his career as a recording artist and also to build his music catalog for placement in film and television.”
Flow was attracted to R&B at a very early age. And, as most of us did, he had his high school band development time frame, and by the age of 16 he was down in the Village playing the venues of the day. He eventually even took a side route into the world of hip-hop and rap, having fun with the genre for about five years before re-focusing and getting back to his current evolutionary style. As he states on his site about those times, “That’s how I got the name ‘Sammy Flow.’ My real name is Sam Mohl.”
But while Flow may embrace many different influences, he has found a way to utilize them and make them a part of his compositional process. Some of the songs that undoubtedly caught Tommy Marolda’s ear stand tall on Flow’s latest eponymous release, Sammy Flow.
Featuring seven thoughtfully crafted compositions, Sammy lives up to his last name with this streamlined project.
The disc kicks right into a pocket snug mix of gritty soul with “Carmella.” I immediately sensed intense and honest inflections of Teddy Pendergrass, Marvin Gaye and Terence Trent D’Arby as Flow immersed his entire being into these solid gold choruses. Instrumentation is sparse, effective and extremely at ease as Flow paints breezy, sunshine-soaked imagery from the center of the mind. After listening to the entire disc, this is the first time for any artist to date that I’ve felt the very first song has been the strongest.
“She Gets What She Wants” pops with acoustic-laden funk, groove-oriented verse setup and a driving, commercially viable chorus. The melody of the verse is an interesting contrast to the walking guitars and basslines that creep spider-like and evenly as Flow winds up and wallops a trademarked raspy raw choral shot deep into the bridge. This is a sound that has no stake in the wannabe world of the pop scene right now, and that’s perfect.
“Nobody Home” is up next and comes from the rambling, sweat-soaked world of Otis Redding and Ben E. King. Beautifully done, this soulful waltz tumbles slowly, dropping into the world of rhythm and blues and centering on the intimate sensibilities of Flow’s musical tutelage. Harmonies are seamless and ethereal, bringing me back to those hot summertime memories of Van Morrison at the Capitol Theater in Passaic. Flow’s understanding of style and delivery are highly attuned, and I’m not surprised that co-writers of Marolda’s caliber are working with him. I would have liked to have heard some greasy, toned, Telecaster upstrokes, and shuffled drums, but “Nobody Home” stands up quite well.
“Blind” is another song that’s been pulled back and kept from galloping full speed ahead. Percussion is tempered and timed, jumping between bass riffs and acoustic guitars downstrokes as lead guitar echoes and pings into the bridge sections in the style of Christopher Thorn (Blind Melon). Kudos goes out to bassist Dallas Hosey and percussionist Dan Jefferson, who work in conjunction with Flow to keep this acoustic-based rendition focused and effective.
“Her Name Is Leanne” brings me back to those wondrous 1970s vibrations of Lionel Richie and The O’Jays. The simple, pop arrangement and effortless and soulful drive are amazing here. This is a composition that enters the realm of being timeless. The emotional pull here is too strong for the listener to avoid being drawn in and converted. The thematic hook comes back just enough to make you remember this funky, laid-back jewel all day long. The guitars shimmer and sparkle in the bridge, throwing out hints of pickers like Thomas McClary (The Commodores) and wrapped in a smooth, luxurious sprinkling of Steve Cropper pull-offs, bends and chops all courtesy of guest guitarist JB Kline. Kline is a 30-year veteran of the music scene and has graced the stage with the likes of Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and George Thorogood. His focus on simplicity is a class addition here. Beautiful, traditional and in a league all its own, “Her Name is Leanne” is a surefire winner and my favorite cut on the disc.
“Second Guessin’” cruises in on contemporary jazz and blues swing. Flow’s ability to move from a gritty howl to soprano smooth pitch changes seems so easy when he does it. Airy and bright, “Second Guessin’” is right on the money when it comes to adult contemporary celebration. Flow is also an accomplished guitarist and his foray into pop-tinged jazz licks reminds me of the sun-splashed melodic work of Rodney Sheppard from Sugar Ray.
The disc finishes with the rain and thunder of “She’s Bad.” Mandolin trills race along great big open chords as Flow winds up and pitches his piercing melodious vocal kick into the mix. “She’s Bad” dances like fireflies in the dusk, bringing forth fluttering lyrical lamentations of everything that’s bad for the heart and soul. Temptations ignite with sparks of infatuation and temptation. Disappointments come to the surface as Flow waxes nostalgic on the one special girl who came out of nowhere and “landed at the Jersey Shore.” Once again, Flow and crew take it down to the bare necessities here, showcasing songwriting talent over production prowess and proving once and for all that, if the skeletal arrangement is good, the song can be presented in any form chosen and still shine on.
Sammy Flow hails from the westernmost section of Hunterdon County, in Flemington, NJ. With a style that falls somewhere between contemporary pop and jazz-infused R&B, Flow is a unique contender for brave new sound. In a state filled with Americana cowboys and Bob Dylan hipsters, Flow’s dedication to soulful rhythm and blues is a welcome and exciting break here at the Shoreworld.
You’ll get a chance to witness this talent for yourself as Sammy Flow and his band take The Saint stage on Oct. 12. In the meantime, Flow is available over at Pandora if you want to delve into his sound and see what he might be doing at The Saint show.
For more information on Sammy Flow, his great band and his new CD, head over to sammyflow.co and check him out on Pandora at pandora.com/sammy-flow.