ON HIS WAY BACK Lyle Divinsky.
What's that about the apple and the tree? With college degree in hand, Lyle Divinsky returns to his Portland stomping grounds with a debut CD, Traveling Man, that not only features dad Phil Divinsky's drummer (Marty Joyce), bassist (Peter Masterson), and guitarist (Andy Argondizza) from the ToneKings, but plays in a Motown/R&B sandbox that should be familiar to ToneKings loyalists. And have you heard Phil's pipes? Well, Lyle's inherited every velvet tone. Of the soul singers this town's recently produced — Tony McNaboe, Adam Waxman, Nigel Hall — Divinsky might be the best pure singer.
If you've seen him fronting Model Airplane at the Big Easy, you know what I'm talking about.
He's young, though, and his voice and songwriting are still maturing. With his vocals, he loves to go big, as with the extended Al Green-style falsetto in his opening "I Care," where he tremolos just about out of his socks. Eventually he may save the big more for effect, rather than busting it out all the time, and I think he'll gather body and grit into his voice as he moves into his late 20s. While there's variety here — bleeding more into rock on "Last Goodbye," gospel on "My Angel," folk for "Warmth of Her Arms" — he still almost always falls into that trap of opening with just a single instrument then building in the rest of the band, either after a couple of bars or a whole verse.
The album is very nicely organized, though, with short, minute-plus solo numbers interspersed as transitions and any number of tempos and arrangements so he doesn't fall into an R&B groove he can't get out of. "Come on Home" is a slow Motown-style ballad, like Otis Redding doing "My Girl," while "The Guy for Her" is bouncy and upbeat, even if both of them mine the familiar R&B territory of mooning over unattainable love: "I can't see what's going on here/I tried so hard to make it clear/But all she does is walk on by/When I know in my heart I could be the guy/For her."
And if that borders on pap, maybe you'll appreciate that he'll occasionally drop a line like, "What the fuck just happened?" (Not to mention that R&B isn't exactly known for its literary qualities.)
The album finishes strong, with "Where Do We Go," a piece like Coldplay's "I Saw Sparks" as performed by Sam Cooke, co-written with sometime drummer Dan Boyden and stretching out past five minutes without seeming to lag at all.
"It's a beautiful life," Divinsky repeats through the finish. With such a great musical foundation on which to build, it's easy to see why he holds that opinion.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TRAVELING MAN, released by Lyle Divinsky | at the Big Easy, in Portland | with Billy Libby + Adam and the Waxmen | June 5 | www.lyledivinsky.com