The title track “What’s Trending” was inspired by Leo’s 11 year-old daughter, Sol, who he says “is the ultimate trend follower, always showing me some new meme, dance or internet phenomenon, and always armed with the phrase ‘look at this, it’s trending.’” The irony of today’s trend becoming tomorrow’s fad is not lost on Leo. And Sol, who appears on the track as well as a handful of others on the record, sings with a maturity that belies her youth.
Leo himself began recording professionally when he was in his teens (Steve Miller recorded four of his songs when Leo was only 15), so there is something of a sense of continuity coursing through the project.
He does it with easy humor, great grooves and a vocal delivery – direct, approachable, conversational – that leaves the impression he is singing only to you, telling your story while he tells his own. Being a multi-instrumentalist (he plays most of the instruments on the record) gives him the advantage of crafting songs of detailed yet lush subtlety.
They are small universes that explore ideas of identity, history, social discourse, and the richness of every-day life. He draws from jazz, R&B, lofi hiphop, singer-songwriter and even pop, yet always lands on his own two feet. His songs, as pop musician Steve Miller once said, “stand and deliver”.
That continuity is there in the song “There Was A Fire” which features both Leo’s daughter and his father, jazz musician Ben Sidran. In fact “There Was A Fire” is inspired by the elder Sidran’s book of the same name, which explored the Jewish contribution to popular music in America. The title is based on a legend of Jewish origin from the 18th century about the importance of remembering who you are and where you came from.
And where Sidran comes from is a place of great music and great musicians. As on his previous projects, here he counts on the collaboration of a select handful of friends as featured guests, including Janis Siegel (of the Manhattan Transfer), Louis Cato (bandleader of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert), Jon Lampley (of The Huntertones), Jake Sherman, Lauren Henderson, and Michael Leonhart (of Steely Dan) among others. And once again, almost all of the collaborators on the project have also been guests on Sidran’s celebrated podcast The Third Story.
Some of the songs on What’s Trending respond to the turmoil of modern life, in one moment hopeful (“It’s Alright”) in another humbled (“Hanging By A Thread”), in yet another introspective (“Sleepwalking”), and finally celebratory (“When The Mask Comes Off”). “Keep It Wild”, “Nobody Kisses Anymore” and “After Summer’s Gone” all channel Sidran’s devotion to classic love songs. We hear it in “Nobody Kisses Anymore” when he laments: “Nobody takes the time to write, nobody’s using punctuation”, a nod to the slippery slope of informality in modern life.
“Everybody’s Faking”, “Crazy People”, and “Spin” likewise explore the place of truth, or lack thereof, in today’s world, while “1982,” is a nostalgic look-back, constructed using only the titles of popular songs released during that year. Huey Lewis, Michael McDonald, Toto, The Police, Hall and Oates, Stevie Wonder, Steve Miller – the iconic artists of Leo’s childhood – all come through clearly in the music.
As Leo Sidran proves, the exploration of ‘what’s trending’ doesn’t have to simply be a jaundiced look at today’s social circus. It can be fun, funny, warm, wishful and downright inspirational, just like the songs he produces.