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The Piano Man

Hip-hop, rap and pop rock dominated last year’s music charts, but the success of Norah Jones, one of the best-selling artists of 2003, proves that embracing true songwriting talent remains a viable commercial strategy for record labels.

Sony Music hopes to capitalize on the renewed interest in traditional songwriters. The entertainment giant signed Casey Stratton, who recently released his debut album, “Standing At The Edge.

Stratton, 26, is an original singer and songwriter in the tradition of artists like Peter Gabriel, Elton John, Tori Amos and Sarah McLachlan. His mesmerizing, driving piano tunes and imaginative production arrangements are glossy and meaningful.

His music can be classified as alternative adult-contemporary, with its emphasis on hooky melodies, classical instrumentation and poetic lyrical content.

The classically trained artist collaborated with soundboard veteran and composer Patrick Leonard, who co-produced the entire project. Leonard is mostly known for his work on Madonna’s late-’80s albums such as “True Blue” and “Like A Prayer.”

Born and raised in Michigan, Stratton moved to Los Angeles to pursue a full-time career in music. After shopping his work around different labels, Sony’s Odyssey label picked up his 45-song repertoire, 12 of which appear on the album.

Stratton wrote most of the songs over a four-year period. All of the compositions touch upon “life’s pivotal moments,” which is how he came up with the title of the CD.

Stratton tells Arjan that the record is about coming to grips with life’s baggage and letting go to move on to better things.

“I took inspiration from all different aspects of my life,” he says. “Sometimes I write about my friends or about my own life and relationships. It was very healing for me, but hopefully some people can see it universally and apply it to their own lives.”

He acknowledges that he might be an “old soul” with his lyrics that cover big emotions.

“I have always been very sensitive and taken things very seriously. I guess that’s why some people think I’m older than I really am,” he says.

Stratton does not confirm or deny rumors about his sexual orientation.

“I think people are reading too much into the music,” he says. “I have all sorts of relationships and they’re all different and I’m very open-minded. I kind of just leave it at that.

“There is a time and place to talk about your sexuality and I feel like I’m in a position in my career right now where that can’t be the focus of things,” he adds.

Stratton believes many gay fans appreciate his lyrics about being different and feeling isolated.

“You can feel that on all sort of levels,” he says. “I think that is the feeling that brings my gay fans to my music. I don’t think it is about me personally and my sexuality.”

Stratton’s vocals sound eerily similar to Tori Amos’s. He also has been compared to a young Elton John. He does not mind the comparisons. In fact, he is very flattered by it and even has met Amos on numerous occasions.

“She has been very supportive of me and given me great advice,” he says.

The singer thinks that record companies were reluctant to take on singer/songwriters for a while.

“Singer/songwriters need more time before they take off. They have to establish a fan base and build themselves from the ground up,” he says. “A lot of record companies were struggling financially and could not take that type of risk.”

Whether audiences will catch on to his music or not, Stratton is, by far, one of the first noteworthy debut artists of 2004.

February 20, 2004 | Permalink


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