Archive for May, 2016

Album Review: Dierks Bentley – ‘Black’

May 24, 2016

Dierks Bentley

dierks-bentley-black-album-cover

Black

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Dierks Bentley describes his eighth album Black as “a relationship album that covers the ups and downs of the journey and ends with some self-realization and evolvement.” The title comes from his wife’s maiden name, although the themes of the record are universal and not specifically about her.

I’ve already said my piece about the album’s vapid first single, the out-of-character “Somewhere On A Beach.” The song is awful, but the video’s farcical nature has eased my fears that this song is supposed to be taken seriously.

Bentley has followed with a unique marketing strategy that successfully sets the mood for the album. He’s released four black-and-white music videos connected by the story of a woman juggling two lovers. The visualization gives context to Black while simultaneously giving fans a taste of the record. He began with “I’ll Be The Moon,” an excellent duet with newcomer Maren Morris. Bentley has always championed up-and-coming female artists, and this is a perfect showcase for her contemporary stylings that allows her (and him) to show maturity.

The bombastic “What The Hell Did I Say,” came next. The rockish uptempo number, about a 3 a.m. drunk dial doesn’t fall into familiar troupes, which is a refreshing change of pace. “Pick Up” is even more modern, and unlike its predecessor, it’s nothing more than what you’d expect – a guy with a pickup truck and a phone desperate for time with his girl.

The final number in the video series is the title track, which Bentley chose to open the album and set the mood for the project as a whole. It’s a very sexy slice of pop/rock that has no resemblance to country music whatsoever. I will give slight credit to Bentley, who is wonderfully committed to helping advance the ambiance of the song through his vocal.

“Freedom” is atmospheric rock, an anthem for a life free of constrictions. “Roses and Time Machine,” with its hip-hop beat and deliberate phrasing, is likely to be the album’s most alienating number. Bentley doesn’t do himself any favors with the immature lyric or grating melody. The sonic nature of “Mardi Gras” is even worse, with Trombone Shorty’s contributions making the song damn near unlistenable. He mostly gets the lyric right on “All The Way To Me,” but fails to keep the arrangement tastefully uncluttered.

Bentley does succeed lyrically with the blistering “Light It Up,” a track that could easily be written for his wife. It’s a number about his woman’s ability to turn around his attitude with the little things in life. “Why Do I Feel” is the sense of balance on Black, a modern ballad that retains a bit the old-school Bentley we’ve come to admire all these years. I hate the repetition of the word ‘girl’ throughout, the song doesn’t need it at all, but in 2016 it’s all but unfortunately required.

“Different for Girls,” on the surface, isn’t a great song. But once it gets to the chorus, I like how Bentley turns convention on its head and makes it a breakup song detailing the differences in how a woman responds to the situation opposed to a guy. Elle King, of “Exs and O’s” fame provides a somewhat weak vocal that lacks the punch she brings to her own work.

The smartest aspect of Bentley’s video series is how it positions him as the narrator of Black and not the guy in these songs. In that sense he hasn’t lost his integrity as an artist. That doesn’t excuse the fact that Black is the most polarizing album he’s released to date, with hardly any reminders of his bluegrass-loving traditionalist side coming through. He’s forged ahead with a modern country album aimed at taking his career to the next level. Black is a serious push to get Bentley in awards contention, especially in Male Vocalist races. I cannot blame the strategy, nor do I blame him for it.

I do actively hate how the album is littered with references to modern technology, including cell phones and text messages. I understand it’s all a part of our modern world but I’m just not ready to have it bleed into my music in this heavy an extent. Black is just a bit too modern for my tastes but I’m also not embarrassed by it either. There’s too much by way of sex, but I didn’t feel it was handled in a grotesque manner. Bentley is still the adult in a world of overgrown boys.

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Concert Review: Nancy Beaudette & The Kelly Girls in Framingham, Massachusetts

May 1, 2016
The Kelly Girls (L-R: Christine Hatch, Nancy Beaudette, Aisling Keating and Theresa Gerene) perform at Amazing Things Arts Center in Framingham, MA

The Kelly Girls (L-R: Christine Hatch, Nancy Beaudette, Aisling Keating and Theresa Gerene) perform at Amazing Things Arts Center in Framingham, MA

As our world becomes increasingly more frivolous, it’s harder and harder to find cultural experiences that truly awaken the soul. I was witness to a gem recently, when Nancy Beaudette and The Kelly Girls performed at The Amazing Things Arts Center in Framingham, Massachusetts.

I’ve been a fan of Beaudette’s music for a few years now but I’d yet to see her live until this April 23 concert. I had a feeling the show would be special; her latest album South Branch Road is exquisite, but I didn’t know how far it would exceed my expectations.

She opened solo, taking to the stage backed solely by the trusty six-string strung across her shoulder. Beaudette began wistfully with “Starlight” and closed merrily with “’Till The Tomatoes Ripen,” which had ample audience participation.

Beaudette shared many stories along the way, from her time growing up in Cornwall, Ontario to her distinctly separate relationships with her parents. She’s the middle of five kids, and not afraid to admit she was the rebellious one. These autobiographical anecdotes were perfect fodder to pair with songs like “South Branch Road,” a nostalgic ode to her childhood home. She livened up the room with the jaunty “Build It Up,” about a fire suffered by her great-grandmother who, incredibly, had fifteen children.

My favorite moment in her set wasn’t a song, but a tale about her annual writer’s retreats, trips that have taken her across continents. This past January brought her to Bali, where she connected with children in a small village through a love of music. They didn’t have the resources for everyone to have an instrument, so Beaudette made sure they all received a guitar before her departure back to the states.

The cultural immersion kicked into high gear when The Kelly Girls took the stage in the second half. The four-piece Celtic band, of which Beaudette is a part along with Christine Hatch, Aisling Keating and Theresa Gerene, performed songs that traversed centuries, generations and even ancestry.

Their set was richly layered with historical significance and a captivating approachability. They opened strong, with their tight harmonies giving way to infectious fiddle-drenched instrumentation. They ran through traditional and newly penned Irish tunes along with accents of folk and a touch of country. The set was distinctly diverse, with Keating displaying her angelic soprano and Gerene firing off verses at breakneck speed. Hatch sang lead on two of the evening’s most charming numbers, the folksy “Charlie On The M.T.A.” and the Western classic “I Wanna Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart.” Their yodels were impeccably distinct signatures of their personalities, which added unique texture to the more than ninety-year-old standard.

Nancy Beaudette performs at Amazing Things Arts Center in Framingham, MA on April 23, 2016.

Nancy Beaudette performs at Amazing Things Arts Center in Framingham, MA on April 23, 2016.

The ballads were just as robust as the uptempo numbers, striking in their simplicity. I adored their take on Beaudette’s “The Company of Stones,” which is rooted in the ancestral homeland where the Beaudette family first settled in Canada. I loved Keating’s accents of flute, an instrument I can’t say I hear live all that often.

As if the music wasn’t enough, they brought a human element to the evening that aided in personal connection. The Kelly Girls gave away prizes during their set and Beaudette singled out my mom, who went to High School with her ‘Build It Up’ co-writer Marc Rossi. They even greeted the crowd (which consisted of friends and family, including Hatch’s mom) before and after the show, which just doesn’t happen anymore no matter how localized the artist may be.

I came away having witnessed a unique bond between friends making music simply out of passion for the art. The Kelly Girls, the epitome of a tightly in synch ensemble, left me in the best possible place – wanting more and more. If you ever get a chance to see them live, hopefully accompanied with a Beaudette solo set, I’m sure you’ll come away feeling exactly as I did that evening. Make it a point to seek out a performance; I know for sure you won’t regret it.