IF THERE WERE A WAMMIE award for “Most Prolific Guest Artist,” Jon Carroll would have a mantel crowded with them by now. Though best known for his work with Starland Vocal Band and Mary Chapin Carpenter, the keyboardist-composer-vocalist has more recording credits than Donald Trump has nasty things to say about Rosie O’Donnell, or vice versa.
Carroll, however, recently reserved enough time to record “Love Returns,” his first solo album in more than a decade. It’s a vibrant reminder of what he does best, whether it’s conjuring vintage R&B/soul sounds, the inspiration for “Maybe This Romance,” “Take It All Back” and several other tracks, or composing a ballad as evocative as “Land That Time Forgot,” which manages to bring to mind both novelist Annie Proulx and tunesmith John Prine, or coming up with a country ditty as innocently engaging as “On the Front Porch.”
Two cover tunes — Ted Hawkins’s “The Good and the Bad” and Dan Zanes’s “Darkness Before Dawn” — neatly fit alongside the original tunes, and though the arrangements tend to be spare — too spare, at times — they’re enhanced by Carroll’s own list of guest musicians, which includes drummer Dave Mattacks, guitarist Duke Levine, reedman Chris Watling and trumpeter Alan MacEwen. Sure, Carroll is accustomed to seeing his name listed in the fine print, but he headlines this session with talent and charm to spare.
— Mike Joyce, Washington Post