Tag Archives: album

Album Review – Beyoncé’s “Beyoncé”


Dreams and fantasies creep into the mind, often cloaked by the darkness of night and with little warning. Such is also true for Beyoncé’s fifth solo album, “Beyoncé,” which was secretly released through iTunes on a random Thursday night in December without any promotion.

While albums are typically released on Tuesdays and hyped-up for months beforehand, Mrs. Carter decided to forego industry standards and make her own rules. She wanted to be the one to deliver this 14-track, 17-video “visual album” directly to her fans, and that is exactly what she did.

It was a risky endeavor, but in a world where tweets and Instagram photos spread within seconds, Beyoncé’s risk reaped major rewards. The singer’s most erotic album to date now sits high on its throne as the fastest selling album ever on iTunes.

Collectively, “Beyoncé” is a brilliant portrayal of one woman’s flawed but honest journey into womanhood. What makes it brilliant is that as Beyoncé shares her most intimate thoughts, she speaks to and for so many others. Despite the fact that Beyoncé is worth an estimated $53 million, the album reveals that at 32 years of age she still struggles with very common emotional battles.

In line with Madonna’s 1992 album “Erotica” — also her fifth album which features alter-ego Mistress Dita —“Beyoncé” delivers a heavy dose of sexuality, so much so that Freud would seriously have a field day analyzing it. Not only do listeners get a boatload of not-so-subtle innuendos, but Beyoncé also ties childhood sound bytes into the story and introduces yet another alter-ego—smack-talking ferocious Yoncé—to her fans. It doesn’t get much more Freudian than that.

After watching the rise and fall of MTV, Beyoncé is doing her part to bring back the art of the music video. While the accompanying videos leave little to the imagination, they are playful, poignant and cinematic, all while providing a vivid vision to back the lyrics. Tracks like “Blow,” “Partition,” “Drunk in Love” and “Rocket” are matched with in-your-face images across the spectrum of attraction that breathe life and love into her closest relationship.

In particular, Beyoncé — along with Miguel and Justin Timberlake — find that sweet spot with “Rocket,” which is unmistakably the female version of D’Angelo’s “Untitled (How Does it Feel).” Thirteen years after D’Angelo’s iconic song hit the airwaves, “Rocket” explodes with Prince-esque boudoir beats and rich R&B runs. This type of between-the-sheets plea to husband Jay Z effectively permeates the album without making fans feel like uninvited peepers. Rather, Beyoncé’s transparency translates as a newly found freedom from expectations that have previously been placed upon her.

While the erotic nature of the album demands attention, there are other important themes that develop through the tracks. One of the most powerful tracks, “***Flawless,” features the powerful words of Nigerian poet Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and reminds women of all ages to fight for gender equality.

Another standout fan-favorite is “XO,” a call-and-response percussive carpe diem love jam that celebrates living every moment like it is the last. “Pretty Hurts” speaks to the pressures of sacrificing the soul for superficial beauty, while “Blue” celebrates the triumphs and joys of motherhood. Beyoncé also gives a glimpse into the ups and downs of marriage on tracks like “Jealous” and “Mine,” tapping into some of the not-so-sexy emotions that can threaten even one of the most influential couples in the music business.

Stylistically, Beyoncé experiments with a more electro-pop sound, often jagged and jolting in its delivery, similar to methods found on Frank Ocean’s “Chanel Orange.” It is no surprise that Ocean joins Beyoncé on “Superpower,” an apocalyptic anthem that could be construed as a call-to-arms to her fans, or perhaps just a love letter to Mr. Carter.

Interestingly, across the album’s tracks and videos there exists a drastic trade-off between the harder and softer sides of Beyoncé, along with a fierce loyalty to her family and hometown, Houston. As with almost everything she has ever created, there is an air of modern-day feminism and empowerment that prevails on this album.

However, this empowerment has never quite felt as authentic as it does on “Beyoncé,” because Beyoncé is finally showing the world that she is confident and comfortable being her true self. It is in her honesty that she is liberated as a woman, mother and wife, and this in turn spreads naturally to her listeners. While this girl-power quality may imply that “Beyoncé” is strictly for the female listeners, think again. With open minds, men can get a detailed glimpse into the female psyche after taking in this visual album, and if he were alive today, Freud would certainly agree.

Leave a comment

Filed under Music, Review

Album Review – Rebekah Todd’s “Roots Bury Deep”

Photo by: Kristen Abigail

Photo by: Kristen Abigail

Deep beneath the muddied surface of the Tar River and the sifted soil of tobacco fields lays the history of our state. Layered stories from past generations have formed the foundation upon which all other stories are told.

This month, local songstress Rebekah Todd adds her own stories to the thick NC bedrock with her first LP, “Roots Bury Deep.” Funded through a successful Kickstarter campaign, this 9-track album proves to be a soulful folk gem with shades of jazz and funk that paints across the canvas of genres, all while maintaining a cohesiveness that keeps the listener engaged.

With this album, Todd enlisted some of the best that Greenville has to offer. Local musicians Demetrice Everett (drums), Chris Knuckles (saxophone), Evan Roberson (trombone), William Seymour (bass), and Brandon Shamar (keys) lend their talents and create a more textured auditory landscape that enhances Todd’s traditional folk sound. The final product takes listeners on a journey from the deep, dark corners of loss and despair to the wide-open, bright spaces of love and hope.

The album opens with “Devil’s Gonna Buy,” a ghostly, Bourbon Street bender flushed out with whiney trombone and eerie background vocals fit for the dark, gritty alleyways of New Orleans. This track jumps right into “Closer To Dead,” which shines with gospel undertones as the organ and saxophone emerge in line with the supernatural opener.

The catchy radio hit “On The Run” features a punchy cadence and baseline reminiscent of Paul Simon’s “Graceland.” While the title may imply runaway-bride-syndrome, this track is all about empowerment and drive — an important message for anyone who may need a nudge in life. The stripped-down acoustic “Thinking About You” takes a softer, day-dreamy glimpse into Todd’s past, where she opens up about the gripping realization that life is quite incompatible without love.

On “Tornado,” Todd channels her heartaches into powerhouse vocals and tempts the heavens, while reminding listeners that the only way to trump adversity is to face it head-on. “Your Smiling Face” is a toe-tap-clapper with a steam engine drum line fitted with enough spunk to become a crowd favorite.

Todd’s songwriting truly gleams on “Old Days,” a track that traces Todd back through time where she bears the pain of loss, but finds comfort in reliving memories and relishing in the little signs from above. The title track “Roots Bury Deep” follows, and proves once again this songstress’ lyrical prowess as she belts “Let me take you back to the rhythm/Back to the time when you felt only love in my arms/Let me take you back to the country where your roots bury deep/And the soil is rich for all.”

The album closes with “Wishing Well,” an eight-minute magical woodland wonder that captures Todd at a vulnerable crossroad, gazing into her reflection and foreshadowing her path. The horns on this track fade in gently to compliment Todd’s vocal tones and ride the song out as an instrumental. Roberson and Knuckles trade off leads, as if improvising a conversation between Todd’s yesterdays and tomorrows. This track is a beautiful tribute to the fragile nature of life and all of the events and decisions that guide its course.

Throughout “Roots Bury Deep,” Todd’s superb songwriting ties itself closely to the earth — the soil, the roots, the elements. In a world bogged down by technology and the next new trend, Todd keeps things clean, simple and organic, focusing on the most primal of emotions.

Todd’s poignant and powerful vocals reign supreme on each track, with the force to puncture even the toughest of exteriors. However, it is clear to any listener that the backing band elevates Todd’s signature sound to an entirely new level. The horns and organ pull out a speakeasy soul from Todd’s voice that was not yet fully developed on her 2011 EP “Forget Me Not.”

Overall, “Roots Bury Deep” translates as a potent collection of Todd’s most intimate stories. The album reveals that Todd has matured not only as a songwriter, but also as a performer as she displays a renewed confidence in her music. As with any artist, it is important to evolve and grow, and with this album Todd shows that she is capable and comfortable in her own skin, all while staying grounded by her roots.

“Roots Bury Deep” will be released officially February 18, 2014, and will be available on iTunes, Bandcamp, Amazon and more. For more information about her Greenville and Raleigh album release parties, be sure to keep up with Todd on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or at www.rebekahtodd.com.

Enjoy the title track here!

Leave a comment

Filed under Music, Review

Album Review – Green Day’s Uno, Dos, Tré


When Green Day erupted onto the music scene in 1994 with Dookie, a punk-pop revolution began that turned straight-laced suburban kids into pseudo-punk moshers with non-conformist agendas. Dookie quickly became the angst-laden, fast-paced, three-chord anthem for teenagers in the ’90s.

Since the success of Dookie, Green Day has been forced to reinvent its sound to stake claim to its longevity. The band’s most recent studio effort comes in the form of an album trilogy—Uno, Dos and Tré — released over the past few months.

The first installment, Uno, is riddled with ’90s throwback moments in songs like “Nuclear Family,” “Let Yourself Go” and “Angel Blue.” “Carpe Diem” and “Oh Love” stand out as the catchiest tracks that will likely become concert sing-alongs. Despite the band’s overuse of black eyeliner, “Kill the DJ” comes off as too glam-rock, making this track one to skip. On a high note, Uno makes a good run at reproducing some of that old Green Day sound that 30-somethings are longing to hear again.

Dos appears to be the experimental album of the collection, where the band slows the pace and mingles genres. Although the opening track, “See You Tonight,” is a sweet and quiet guitar-centric song with harmonies, it doesn’t set the album’s tone — listeners beware. The album is mainly weighed down by oversexed tracks like “F*** Time,” “Stop When the Red Light Flashes” and “Makeout Party.” Dos appears to be the weak link in the trilogy chain.

The final installment, Tré, may appeal to fans that coveted Green Day’s rock opera American Idiot (2004). Like Dos, the pace is slower, but this time it feels like singer Billie Joe Armstrong is projecting to an audience of lost teenage souls. What it lacks in story line, it makes up in message with songs like “Brutal Love,” “X-kid” and “The Forgotten,” which collectively feel like the soundtrack to youth. “Dirty Rotten Bastards” is more energized and serves as the album’s revolutionary “fist-in-the-air” tune. This album may be the best of the three, despite the overall lack of punk.

With this trilogy, Green Day departs from the political defiance that marked its music over the past decade, and returns to its roots — singing about sex, drugs and slacker love. While most tracks are fun and upbeat, the band never quite seems to catch up to the urgency of its early albums, leaving listeners feeling a bit sluggish. There are too few Tré Cool drum rolls and Armstrong’s lyrics are way too coherent. What happened to the Green Day of yesterday, where mumbled lyrics were a mystery and excessive air drumming on the dashboard at stoplights was the norm?

Overall, this trilogy seems a bit gimmicky. Listening to all three albums is like going to a seafood joint, ordering crab cakes and getting a few lumps of crab with a lot of filler. Without all of the filler, Green Day could have released one album with a dozen quality songs.

A bit of advice: Listen to the songs, pick your favorites, buy them separately and create your own playlist.

Leave a comment

Filed under Review

Mountain Jam Interview: Scott Avett

photo by Lucky Soul Photography (c)

Note: I was given the opportunity to write a short article for The Daily Reflector (Greenville, NC). While it’s hard to fit a 15 minute interview into a 600-800 word piece, I did my best and sent it on to the editor. Here it is: Mixer article.

However, here is the interview in its entirety, because it deserves to be shared!

Prior to tearing up the stage with a rowdy, boot stompin’ performance at this year’s Mountain Jam festival, Scott Avett (of The Avett Brothers) sat down with me to talk about the festival experience, staying “green” on tour, giving back, their next album, and surprisingly his love for John Oates. Scott began by talking fondly about his time at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC:

Scott: Greenville is really special to me. I learned a lot in Greenville…the hard way.

Me: You still have some connections there in the art department, right?

Scott: Yeah, I still go work in the printing department and still keep in touch with some of the professors.

Me: Well that’s nice. I am sure they appreciate that.

Scott: Yeah, me too, because with the painting and everything, that is still very much a part of what I do and I could use the inspiration.

Me: So in the last Crackerfarm video of you in the ECU print shop, what were those funny hats?

Scott: (laughs) Those were just pirate hats that somebody brought in and we just threw them on!

Me: That’s funny. So this is your second year at Mountain Jam?

Scott: It is, it is, yeah. It seems like no time passed at all.

Me: In planning your tour, what makes you decide to come back to the same festival year after year? Is it the feel of the festival or timing?

Scott: Timing is good. And you know, festivals are good because they add a lot of variety to the schedule. So, anything from stage, feel, to demographics. We really have been to a lot of places and it’s odd how different the festivals are. Sometimes that [demographic] reaction can sort of spawn an energy that’s good that you want to go recreate or take it to the next step.

(Side note: We were nicely interrupted by a massage therapist who was going around telling all of the artists about the free massage tent. Scott laughed and said, “Oh man, y’all must have heard about me…must of heard about how bad of shape I’m in.” He graciously thanked (of course) her and we continued on…)

Me: What was your first impression of Mountain Jam last year?

Scott: You know this is a raw festival. I think its placement and its area is so rich in history with Dylan and Levon Helm and everything. So that bodes well for it and adds to the energy. There’s no doubt about it. But last year our experience was very raw, very ruckus and fun…dusty…sweaty!

Me: That’s good! It’s a little different from playing somewhere like Bojangles Coliseum.

Scott: Yeah, well this time of year the festivals can get that way, and they are good. It’s good for us! I definitely prefer them at this point. I’ve gone through stages where the theaters are where you want to be in the presentation of what you are doing, but I am a little more fly by night right now in the way I feel a show should be. So these festivals are a little better and a little more spontaneous.

Me: Do you guys get to enjoy the other artists or is it all business?

Scott: No, but we have friends that will be here that we will perform with and interact with and get to see, but (leaning forward and looking out the tent) I see a band over there playing and that’s about as close as I’ll get.

Me: Grace Potter and Nicole Atkins will be here tomorrow, but you wont get to see them?

Scott: No, but Nicole will be around today (with a sheepish grin)

Me: Oh, so maybe we will get a little special treat for later!?

Scott: Yeah, maybe.

(Side note: Sadly Nicole’s guitarist was ill and she didn’t arrive in time to play with The Avett Brothers. I think all parties involved were sad!)

photo by Lucky Soul Photography (c)

Me: So, I have been to a few festivals and they all seem to have a different feel. The feeling I get from Mountain Jam is geared towards educating the audience about environmental issues, and not necessarily picking artists because of their “environmental” message, but probably picking artists who feel that is important. Is that important to you and the rest of the band when you come to a music festival?

Scott: Yes, it is. It is important to keep “it” (being environmentally minded) right before you instead of getting too worldly to where it’s overwhelming. You know, you are going through the day and you could recycle one bottle, so it’s just one little step at a time. I think it’s important not to get too caught up with the “big picture” as this one fell swooping.

Me: Do you guys have rules on the tour bus for living “green”?

Scott: We all know that [being green] is the best way, but sometimes survival just can’t…if you let your principles get in the way of your product, your quality, your life, it might…it might be…suicide (chuckles).

Me: So is it difficult to take what you do at home out on the road?

Scott: Oh absolutely! It has gotta change, because those are very different lives.

Me: So, do you have recycling bins on the bus?

Scott: Yeah, we do recycle as much as we can. But, for example, if you fill the front lounge area with water bottles everybody’s agitated and angry because there are water bottles everywhere, so you have to be smart about it. Right, Dane? (Scott laughs and looks over to Dane who is sitting in the corner). Dane is our tour manager. He has to keep up with us, so he’s definitely aggravated (as he chuckles). No, but honestly, we all try to stay really aware about that kind of stuff.

Me: Beyond the little things you do to stay “green” in your personal life, you all played two very cool shows last year that really helped out local farms in Portland, OR and the CFSA in NC. Those types of shows are obviously very important to The Avett Brothers. Do you have to search out those opportunities or are they typically just presented to you?

Scott: Yes, those are very important to us, and they typically come to us more so these days because there is more money generated with more fans. We don’t typically have to go searching for it, but if there is a specific cause we want to help with, we will go after it.

Me: You have done a lot with the tornado relief efforts recently. How have those experiences been for you all?

Scott: That is really the least we can do, and definitely have not done enough. There’s nothing that is going to change the terrible nature of that except for time. We are so lucky to be able to do something that we enjoy, and we don’t deserve it anymore than anybody else. To truly want to help people…to honestly want to do that, it can’t be taxed, not in the literal sense of the word taxed, but to order or direct someone to help people is not real, it’s not honest, and it’s not sustainable. If we are fortunate enough to have such an enjoyable life, these opportunities, and these great moments, we need to remember how grateful we should be without someone ordering us or demanding that we share that. We need to share that. The moment we stop doing that, than it’s all poisoned. We remind each other of that and try to keep that presence about us now that we are moving. The wheels are turning…there is a backlog now. There’s no turning back. There’s no stopping. So we have to just share, if it’s good feelings or a couple of bucks, it just has to be done.

Me: I think that you have a great influence on your fan base, who you really make feel like family. That feeling really spreads.

Scott: Well, we all are [family]. When people refer to us as “family oriented people” or “family matters”, to look at it thoroughly and in detail, it’s not about my brother and my dad and my mom and daughter. It’s beyond that, and it’s a much bigger unit, the family. It’s the world.

photo by Lucky Soul Photography (c)

Me: From your perspective can you feel how powerful that is? Do you feel how much influence you have on making people happy and how that is passed on to others? If you go on and read the boards, it’s pretty amazing!

Scott: (big laugh) Well, I don’t read the boards, but I am told. But it has to be one step at a time. If I harness that as a big picture like you are saying, it’s dangerous for me. So, one day at a time and I will take your word for it. I am glad to hear that, and I hear it from other people. That is terrific. I just try to keep it in perspective. If there is something we can do today, that is great. If not, hopefully tomorrow there will be. There is always something it is just a matter of if you have the energy to go out and seek it.

Me: Does that ever feel like a burden?

Scott: (emphatically) No. No. We are not ministers or part of the Red Cross or anything, so we’re not burdened by that type of service. Even though it might end up translating into that eventually, indirectly. We get a lot of enjoyment out of it. Hopefully, it’s just in harmony with all of that.

Me: How did you all get paired up with John Oates for your Vermont show last night?

Scott: We worshiped Hall and Oates when we were kids. I mean I worshiped him! I mean that was as big as Bob Dylan any day of the week to me. Not to a lot of people, but their music when I was 8 years old was forming who I am right now. So he just asked if we wanted to do something. So we said let’s do it! He asked if we wanted to do one of our songs or their songs and we said neither, let’s just do a Bob Dylan tune!

Me: Cool! Well, besides maybe a guest appearance from Nicole Atkins today, any other surprises for today’s set?

Scott: Well…Simon Felice is around here somewhere but I’m not sure if he will make it on stage with us. He’s a terrific guy. He recorded with us on I and Love and You.

Me: Finally, I read a quote from Bob somewhere that the new album isn’t due out until the end of next year?

Scott: Oh no, no… I don’t know when it’s due. That would be pretty late. We are well in the process of it and well passed the halfway mark. If it maintains we would finish the record this year. It’s just a matter of when and how it will come out.

Me: Well we are all looking forward to hearing it.

Scott: Thank you. Thank you very much.

We finished the interview with a hand shake, some smiles, and well wishes. A few hours later the entire mountain, sprinkled with both old and new Avett fans, had the privilege of witnessing one of the most energetic and magnetic sets of the weekend. While their set featured several songs from their I and Love and You album, we did get a few old favorites from their albums Four Thieves Gone and Emotionalism, along with a guest appearance from their dear friend Simon Felice and an encore Dylan cover to top it off. The Avett Brothers continue their tour throughout the US and Europe well into the Fall, so check them if they come anywhere near you. Trust me, you will leave as one of the family, and it’s a pretty cool family to be a part of if I do say so myself.

For more information about the band, please pay a visit to their website. I must end with a huge “thank you” to Dane Honeycutt for arranging the interview, and to the gracious Scott Avett for taking the time to chat with me.


Filed under Interview, Live Shows, Music

Debut Album Review: Alexander

Alexander The Great

Amidst a busy touring schedule last year, singer/songwriter Alex Ebert (frontman for bands, Ima Robot and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros) took a break from his baker’s dozen feel-good-hippie-music-act to create an eloquent and eery solo album fittingly entitled, Alexander.  Ebert’s solo sound is thankfully a departure from the pop-punk-emo tunes of Ima Robot.  Instead, the ten tracks on Alexander fall more in line musically with the stylish makings of ESMZ.  Ebert’s musical influences appear obvious to any listener with even a shallow understanding of music history, and lucky for us he picked some of the best from decades past.  Timeless tones of Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, The Beatles (later years), Bob Marley, and even Johnny Cash meander their way through these tracks, all the while feeling fresh and new thanks to Ebert.  Rarely do I listen to an album in a first sitting and enjoy it in its entirety, but such is the case with Alexander.

Most tracks are carefully laced with echos of ghostly background vocals that somehow find a way to complement an upbeat snap-clap cadence of each song’s message.  At moments, especially during the first track, Let’s Win!, it felt as if Ebert was the Pied Piper and I trustingly filed in behind other listeners to join his traveling circus.  I suppose that is one of the best ways to set an album’s tone and get the listener on-board.  Contrary to what listeners may initially assume, Ebert didn’t recruit his 12 ESMZ band members to play the instruments on this debut solo album.  Rather, he retreated to his bedroom between shows to play each and every instrument (including all vocals) himself.  The seamless melding of vocals with an arsenal of instrumentation is easy on the ears and light on the soul, perhaps leaving the listener a bit closer to enlightenment.  I suppose that is Ebert’s Pied Piper mentality again…lulling his audience into a peaceful trance.  Hey, in an ever more stressful world, it works for me.  Like other musicians who have taken on the enormous feat of creating a canon of songs entirely on their own (a certain Timothy Seth Avett as “Darling” comes to mind…), Ebert can now reflect on his first solo project with pride.  Do yourself a favor, take a listen and get enlightened.

Leave a comment

Filed under Music, Review