If you haven’t heard of Machan before, we can use a little cool namedropping to give you a sense of her rich vocal talents and versatility—over the years, she has recorded and/or toured with Sting, Pat Benatar, Aretha Franklin, George Benson, Hiroshima, Government Mule and Pink Floyd. We can also drop the monikers of some innovative legendary jazz cats who stopped by to enhance the bright, lyrically smart and instantly infectious tracks on Motion Of Love, the singer’s follow-up to her self-titled 2004 debut. While Machun lays the breezy foundation of the ten songs—nine penned by the singer, one an imaginative cover of Government Mule’s “Beautifully Broken”--with her agile nylon string guitar, she gets by with more than a little harmonic help from her friends John Medeski (Rhodes, Hammond B-3), electric guitar great John Scofield and trumpet icon Randy Brecker.
Motion of Love is the kind of adult contemporary vocal project that years ago would have been played extensively on smooth jazz radio. While playlists these days seem to favor oldie pop vocals over exciting modern artists, it would be great if some of Machan’s tracks found their way to mainstream success. The seductive title track has a beautiful, samba-lite rhythm pattern behind Machan’s dreamy, often ethereal vocals (enhanced with wordless passages), while the lively, romantic gem, “More” perfectly blends old school soul-jazz sensibilities (like Medeski’s Rhodes) with the same exotic Rio vibe. She hops locales for the high spirited, lilting reggae flavored “Everyday,” which features Machan’s deep, heartbreaking social commentary set against an optimistic musical vibe. Scofield’s electric guitar is highlighted on a balmy, swaying cover of Government Mule’s “Beautifully Broken,” which features the Wurlitzer and clavinet of GM member and the song’s co-writer Danny Louis (who also happens to be Machan’s husband!). Randy Brecker’s lush muted trumpet gets us in the mood on the provocative and dramatic “A Broken Heart Like This,” which is another example of Machan’s ability to chronicle the dark side of the times. “Extraordinary Thing” and “Little Bird” (featuring the high steppin’ sax of Aaron Heick) capture the opposite idea, pure optimism for a bright future—the perfect balance of joyful light to banish the darkness Machan sings about elsewhere. She also goes deep on “In Your Word,” but the listener might be more engaged with the echoing retro soul elements, energetic horns and deep pocket R&B grooves. The bright and vibrant “Without Your Smile” is built on a foundation of the perfect duet between Machan’s energetic acoustic guitar work and Louis’ hypnotic work on B-3 and Horner Piano. “Vulnerable” closes the set in a more subtle way that touches on the classic folk music of yesteryear.
After so many years lending her vocals to the projects and live performances of so many superstars, it’s great that Machan has finally emerged as a singer-songwriter in her own right. Because of limitations on projects like these with traditional airplay, Motion of Love may take some crafty marketing to reach the masses. But once it does, the artist’s incredible vocal, instrumental and writing talents will take no more than a moment to capture people’s hearts everywhere.