With the popular Portland outfit As Fast As, Zach Jones already has made it to one version of the pop rock promised land, sharing stages with the likes of O.A.R. and Maroon 5. On a slickly produced solo step-out, Jones proves he can surround himself with great players on a moment’s notice, but in his rush to branch out, may have revealed some holes in his songwriting game. He may want to go have a little talk with Jamie Lidell.

The record’s fatal flaw is its Jekyll and Hyde genre. Here’s a breakdown of the first few tracks: “Round and Round” is a nice driving pop number, plump with Barenaked Ladies hooks. “It Depends On You” is a tough listen, the chorus is out of Jones’ range and awkwardly jumbly. Jones pulls some Weezer crunch, which isn’t unwelcome, on “Easy Way Out,” and then like a bright shining light, the singer finds a match, reaching back for a knockout Smokey falsetto and revealing an alter ego as a soul provocateur.

This is precisely what can make “Fading Flowers” so maddening. On a couple thoughtful soul tunes, Jones knocks it out of the park. But a dangerous percentage of this record consists of radio rock misfires.

By the time “Until I Hear from You” rolls around, I’ve just about reached my jangle threshold, to the point where all I can think of is the Gin Blossoms’ hit from 1995, “Til I Hear It from You.” It’s doubly frustrating because it keeps Jones’ inner Teddy Pendergrass locked in a box.

It bears mentioning again that “Fading Flowers” has a great studio polish. The thing really sparkles in the sunlight. But versatility is a double-edged blade, with the specter of stretching a range beyond what is good or prudent.

The two best moments on “Fading Flowers” are the Thriller-era guitars on the later verses of “Better Safe than Sorry” and track 10, a lush revelation called “Sweet Insomnia.” The crooner pulls a Luther Vandross, circa 1982, and with a couple swift, deadly moves in the chorus, it’s easy to fall pretty hard. The song gobbles ears up, with Jones and a sea of six-part harmonies in a patient comfort zone. With tracks like this, the aspiring soulster can rest easy with a bright future secured.

 

Mike Olcott is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.