Mitchell Froom is best known as a producer. While he's been active since the late '70s, his fame began its inexorable rise during the mid '80s, when he produced albums including Crowded House's debut, Richard Thompson's Daring Adventures
, and Paul McCartney's Flowers in the Dirt
. He's gone on to produce important albums by Suzanne Vega, Los Lobos, Elvis Costello, Randy Newman, and Ron Sexsmith.
Unlike some hands-off producers who impart no real stamp of their own, Froom often contributes his own off-kilter brand of keyboardsusually of the analogue varietyto the projects he produces, leaving a distinctive personal signature, though he always allows the artists' voices to be heard.
In all this time he's only released two equally idiosyncratic albums under his own name1984's The Key of Cool and 1998's Dopaminefilled with strangely conceptualized songs and guest appearances from the seeming cast of thousands he's crossed paths with in the nearly three hundred recordings he's been involved with. Consequently, A Thousand Days may come as something of a surprise.
Essentially a solo piano album, but with a hint of the Froom presence that people have come to know and love, its fourteen piecesthe shortest just over two minutes, the longest just over threeare a series of miniature vignettes all cut from the same cloth. Froom thanks Randy Newman in his credits, and there's something indefinably American about these compositions: some optimistic, others melancholy, but all gentle, languid, and unequivocally beautiful.
As each piece ends, a kind of ambient wash acts as a segue to the next. These linking passages are presented at such a low volume that it's easy to miss them, but they provide a continuity that makes the album truly a conceptual whole, rather than simply a series of appealing miniatures.
Sparse and simple, filled with space and respecting the notes' decay as much as their attack, Froom's compositions don't exactly stand out, but neither are they innocuous or forgettable. Instead, they're immediate, in-the-moment events that occupy attention without being overly demanding. Perhaps they're more melodic, but they occupy similar aural territory as some of Brian Eno's ambient music. Perhaps even more so, they're like an American alternative to brother Roger Eno's classically informed but similarly intentioned work. There's almost a healing quality to the album's lyrical elegance.
It's not exactly jazzalthough there are certain hints of the languageand A Thousand Days doesn't demonstrate any kind of improvisational prowess, but that's really not the point. Contemplative without becoming navel-gazing, A Thousand Days presents a surprisingly romantic side to Mitchell Froomand a simple, unadorned honesty that, despite his involvement in so many other projects to date, he has never explored.
Personnel: Mitchell Froom: piano, treatments.