It isn’t enough to fill songs with the everyday details of your life. Let’s face it – most of us lead prosaic lives. We wake and sleep the same times every day. We keep appointments, put in appearances, and wade into each new day praying we have a marginal idea, at least, of what to expect. If we know what’s good for us, we stamp drama out or keep it turned down to a low simmer. If we scraped together those details into a four-minute pop song, no one would listen to more than a minute of it. Great songwriting, like all representational art, transmutes the everyday details of our lives into something greater – something that resonates for the majority and depicts the rising and falling of life’s larger, slower moving tides. The ten songs on Billy Grima’s latest, Sugar & Cream, understand this. Grima clearly aims to write melodic, memorable songs that reach the widest possible audiences. It isn’t an altogether successful enterprise.
There’s clearly a bid for pop stardom driving these performances, but let’s stress there’s no crime in that. Grima has a stylish presentation that merges musical skill, songwriting talent, and smooth vocals with an attractive persona. Bidding for mainstream success almost behooves young men like Grima – anything less is abdicating his potential. A major part of that potential, however, is his chops and the album’s opener, “Pleasure to Have Met You” provides listeners with a vivid representation of those skills. This tidy confection has great energy and nothing conveys it more than Grima’s comforting, often soaring, vocal. He has a pure pop voice – not one with endless range capable of wowing listeners, but instead, one with melodic gifts and intangible sincerity. Solid fundamentals anchor the opener – the percussion and acoustic rhythm guitar maintain a steady pulse that gives everything a strong foundation. The guitars, bass, and piano duel for the same sonic space, but it never sounds crowded or unruly. Instead, “Pleasure to Have Met You” is a rousing track that’s a near perfect album opener.
A lot of the tracks are outright love songs. It’s difficult for even the best songwriters to plow new ground in such an overworked area, but Grima shows real affinity for the recurring subject matter. Many of these efforts like the unfortunately titled “I Miss You Baby” are strong musical performance sabotaged by a virtual catalog of clichés. It’s a tricky thing to criticize though – if this sentiment burns in Grima’s heart, who can fault it? You can feel disappointment that Grima wastes such a beautifully aching vocal, but you can’t fault the sentiment. Sentiment can overcome much, but not this song. The title track plays like a quasi-blues rave up and builds to strong crescendos. One of the better tracks on the album also benefits from Grima’s relaxed delivery.
“Living the Dream” swells with a radio-friendly chorus and powerful, stripped down backbeat. It hits all of the right notes for its target audience and does so with sleek, robust production firmly in keeping with modern music in its genre. Its anthemic qualities are undeniable and Grima seizes them with authority other singers lack after years of performing. There’s an inescapably cookie cutter feel to the song and a familiar feeling that Grima’s talents are wasted on such material. We’ve heard it before, many times. If Grima’s songwriting is content to rework established formulas, it needs to add distinctive elements to the mix. Sugar & Cream reaches for low-hanging fruit and gets it, but earns no style points in the process.