In 2021, Greg Loiacono released a single, “What Can I Say?,” a heartbreak soul jam; a quintessential throwback about a guy down on his knees pleading for his lady to forgive him—it’s not known what he’s actually done; he begs for her to let him stay.
“Will I see you again?” Loiacono croons in falsetto vocals. The entire tune is delivered in an authentic retro soul/R&B falsetto register conquered by luminaries like Curtis Mayfield, Al Green and Marvin Gaye.
Loiacono—a founding member of the popular Chico rockers the Mother Hips—has released a few solo records here and there, but nothing like “What Can I Say?” Singing a song completely using falsetto was a risk, but the singer-songwriter thought it was a risk worth taking. Plus, it was only one song.
“I feel like I can emote well when I sing like that, and there’s a nice tone that feels genuine to my feelings,” Loiacono explains.
Longtime buddy Scott Hirsch, who produced Loiacono’s 2020 solo record, Songs From A Golden Dream, mixed “What Can I Say?” and he immediately realized the potential for a full-length record, wholly immersed in that ’60s soul sound; beautiful, plain-spoken heartbreak music with reverb—all sung using the same falsetto vocals.
“Scott was like, “we need to make a whole record like that,” Loiacono says. “That was the impetus for [Giving It All Away].”
Loiacono has sung falsetto harmonies with the Mother Hips throughout the years but never delivered lead vocals in that octave on a song until recently, let alone an entire record.
But Loiacono went for it. He crafted an original soul sound using an amalgamation of his favorite soul classics. However, the songs Loiacono wrote didn’t come from a place of heartache, political unrest or injustice; he didn’t have any real-life struggles to tap into—he had just sent his son off to college and celebrated his 50th birthday. Also, he’s been happily married for several years. The singer-songwriter had to dig for the misery he could lean into for the sake of his art. Then, it hit him.
“It was during the beginning of the lockdown,” Loiacono explains. “I didn’t know where my career was going or if I’d ever play live again, so those ideas began to resonate.”
Giving It All Away is a tidal wave of emotion in the vein of Bill Withers, Mayfield (with and without The Impressions) and all the other late ’60s and early ’70s soul that has been ingrained in Loiacono.
“Mr. G”—not to be confused with The Bobbettes 1955 hit “Mr. Lee”—is a doo wop-flavored post-relationship walk on a rainy day; “Del Mar Station” is an R&B reimagination of a Mother Hips straightforward rock tune. Meanwhile, one of Giving It All Away’s highlights wasn’t penned by Loiacono, nor would it ever be considered vintage soul. Blue Rose Music founder and managing partner Joe Poletto, a longtime pal, suggested a soul-saturated rendition of Genesis’ “That’s All.”
“[Poletto] always seems to come up with songs that would fit perfectly,” Loiacono says. “When he suggested [“That’s All”], I was like, ‘really? A Genesis song from the ’80s?’”
Loiacono started messing around with the song; he stripped it down to nothing but nuts and bolts. The reimagined cover grooves with a tightly wound drum-bass rhythmic foundation, an oldschool organ riff and, of course, Loiacono’s falsetto giving the Genesis hit a complete soul makeover that feels nothing like the original.
The album bookend, “You’ll Lose a Good Thing”—written by Barbara Lynn and made a hit by Freddy Fender—is the only other song on the album not written by Loiacono. It’s also a perfect fit, especially with backup vocals from the legendary Vicki Randle (Aretha Franklin, Mavis Staples), who will also be part of the touring band.
Giving It All Away is a retro soul record to its core that doesn’t mimic, nor does it attempt to recreate something that has already been done. Loiacono acknowledges the top-notch band that helped make the record sound so goddamn good. In addition to Hirsch, who produced the album and added some acoustic guitar parts, the band includes drummer Michael Urbano (John Hiatt), organist Danny Eisenberg (Jonathan Richman) and bassist Dave Schools (Widespread Panic). The album was recorded live (vocals and horns were added later) at Spacecamp, Schools’ studio in Occidental, California.
“The energy and the feel of those raw recording sessions lay the groundwork for the album’s amiable atmosphere,” Loiacono says.
Greg Loiacono performs a record release show Friday, Aug. 19, at 8pm. Michael’s on Main, 2591 Main St., Soquel. $20/$25. michaelsonmainmusic.com.