Over the past decade, Carol Duboc has been so much more than one of contemporary jazz and R&B’s most engaging singer/songwriters. On her popular albums Smile (2013), Colored Glasses (2015) and Open the Curtains (2016), she’s opened up and invited us in to the deeper places of her heart, viscerally sharing her pains, emotional struggles and, ultimately, the great triumphs and redemptions of her life.
Raw, honest as vulnerable as ever in sharing what’s on her mind and heart, the multi-talented artist offers an insightful window into some of the current happy goings on in her personal life on the funky, high energy opening and title track of her new album Restless. She engages us with joyful, unbridled excitement from the get-go: “I can’t settle down/I’m so restless when you’re around/Your love woke up my heart.” While the infectious song captures the heart of the multi-talented singer-songwriter expressing the excitement of new love in her life, the theme of the song also applies more broadly to the pandemic and the time of quarantine, when most of the production for the album was done.
One of the most fruitful collaborations during Carol’s solo career is the one she enjoys with Jeff Lorber. Ten years after their song “I Wanna Love Someone” appeared on Carol’s debut album Duboc in 2002, the two co-wrote and co-produced Smile and extended their innate, hitmaking chemistry to the equally acclaimed Colored Glasses. In between these, she released All of You (2005), Songs for Lovers (2008) and The Burt Bacharach Songbook (2009), all of which included Laws on flute. The dynamic Duboc-Lorber relationship reaches new creative heights on Restless, which is the first of Carol’s collections produced solely by the keyboardist, who reached out to work with her again a year after winning his first Grammy for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album (Prototype by The Jeff Lorber Fusion) in 2018. Restless’ blend of old school vibes and sparkling acoustic piano solos add fresh energy to her soulful vocals and compelling lyrical narratives.
Lorber says, “It’s hard to say what makes a good collaboration, but the main thing is that both people like what the other person does and come up with good ideas that both enjoy. Co-writing is a funny thing. It either works or it doesn’t. Luckily, Carol and I work great together. I think it’s because we both have a love for music that’s jazzy while also include R&B elements. I think Restless takes the sound we make together to the next level with a lot of energetic tunes. Overall, it was a fun project to do and there is a nice variety of musical approaches. And in line with the whole restless idea, it was a nice way to take our minds off the quarantine situation. On the other hand, since we’re both stuck at home, we were able to complete it pretty fast with less distractions.”
A native of Kansas City, Carol has lived and worked in Los Angeles since finding her creative voice at USC’s Thornton School of Music and launching her career behind the scenes in the early 90s. First as a pop/R&B songwriter with album cuts and hits by classic pop and R&B artists like Chante Moore, Patti Labelle, Tom Jones, Stephanie Mills, Jade and Fine Young Cannibals and later as a popular solo artist herself, Carol has worked with countless legendary musicians and from Joe Sample and Harvey Mason to late Earth, Wind & Fire founder Maurice White and the late George Duke. Along with Lorber, she reaches empowering new levels of emotion and creativity on Restless with the contributions of two other of her most enduring “go-to” greats: guitarist Paul Jackson, Jr. and flutist Hubert Laws. Restless also features the explosive rhythm section of Alex All (bass) and Gary Novak (drums), and horn arrangements by David Mann.
“There were a lot of pieces of the puzzle to put together, with Alex, Paul, Gary and David Mann’s horn arrangements,” Lorber says. “Those great players were on their A game and contributed some great parts. Peter Mokran contributed some awesome mixes as well. One of the things I really look forward to when I work with Carol is that she always works with Hubert Laws, who is amazing, and we were able to get him on ‘Swept Away.’ He really elevates that song with his beautiful sound unique approach to melody.”
Likewise, Jackson offers some insightful reflections on his musical history with Carol and working on Restless: “My best memories of working with her go back to the MCA days with Louis Silas, Jr. She was doing a lot of writing for projects he was overseeing and producing, while I was doing remixes and playing guitar. Even when we were not in the studio at the same time, we participated in the same songs many times. I think what makes Restless unique is that it was a start to finish team effort. Jeff did all the co-writing and co-production. I played guitar on several songs as did Jeff and Gary. When projects are done this way, it gives them a sense of continuity that you don’t get with multiple producers, writers and musicians. Restless has a really nice flow from song to song, and I’m honored to be part of it.”
The album’s infectious and inspiring flow begins with the fanciful fire of the title track and eases into the mid-tempo thumping groove of “Universe,” where Carol takes a whimsical look at the concept of universal harmony while mentioning the ways an intimate romantic relationship can thrive as a small part of that big picture. Buoyed by Laws’ whimsical flute harmonies, “Swept Away” finds Carol recalling memories of a once-beautiful romance while offering the hope of rekindling – a notion that, taken in a broader social context, touches on our collective optimism about the future after this challenging time. Carol then invites us into some heavier moments in her personal life, beginning with “Aftershock,” a lively, old school jazzy tune with sizzling vocal textures about forgiving someone for inflicting sharp, unexpected pain into her life. Playing off the hard-hitting theme, Dave Mann’s spirited flute solo is like a balm that gently lifts the spirit.
Lorber infuses the easy grooving “Stay Awake” with one of his most dazzling piano solos – which underscores Carol’s impactful advice to her daughter Anna about not losing her faith during a time that’s been so hard emotionally on teenagers. It’s sung from the perspective of a true the brokenhearted, letting us know it’s possible to survive hard times with our hearts intact. One of the most heartfelt tunes on Restless is lush, free flowing “Love Don’t Get in the Way,” which finds the singer taking a hard look at her relationship with Anna, realizing her error in not letting emotions dictate her words and vowing to do better for both their sakes.
After two uplifting pure-hearted love songs – the tender moody reconciliation ballad “If you Still Have Eyes” and the jubilantly swirling, love rekindling “Shadow Dance” – Carol wraps the collection with two songs that give us insight into her faith in God. Lorber creates bubbling funk grooves on “Philosophy,” but Carol’s lyrics are thoughtful and reflective as she shares her point of view that “If you love religion but God’s not in your soul, it’s just a philosophy.” She tags the lyrics on the closer “Metanoia” with an important explanation: it means that to set free from sin and for righteousness requires a metanoia.” In a loving, non-preachy way, Carol shares the importance of learning to slow down, listen to the still small voice of God and make changes in the heart that endure. As she sings: “Metanoia control me/With more than temporary change of heart/Metanoia I can feel/Penetrating everything I’ve ever thought.”
“Writing and recording Restless was an opportunity to document some difficult yet also incredible things in my life, including meeting and marrying my husband and finding ways to navigate important relationships with family members and taking stock of my spiritual life – all during this unbelievably strange time,” says Carol. “Some of the songs were partially written, and others were reshaped after COVID happened. I’m writing about everything from new love, family trials, some of the challenges of being a mom to my daughter Anna, and spiritual matters related to my faith in God and the need for transformation. The truth is that as the project was taking shape, I had planned to call it Restless, but as we were finishing up, it felt like the whole world was feeling that way. It’s reflective of this era we are living in, and as I finished, it was as if I was applying a paintbrush of these times.
“After working with an ensemble of all female musicians on Open the Curtains,” she adds, “on this album I enjoyed reconnecting and working with great players who have helped color my sound throughout my career – in addition to incredible new guys like Gary Novak. With Jeff, Paul and Hubert, there’s the instant comfort of friendship and familiarity even as they are helping me take my emotional and vocal game to the next level. All of them are artists in their own right, adding production value and that special boost without overshadowing me or forcing anything. When we all come together, it just works. They’re brilliant guys doing what they’ve been put on earth to do.”