Album Review – Elephant Revival’s ‘Petals’

“When words fail…music speaks.”

That phrase is what the Elephant Revival uses to help describe their music. It’s a phrase that works, because the songwriting found on their albums is deep, tapping into tough emotions and describing the human experience through devoted metaphors. The quintet is made up of Bonnie Paine (washboard, djembe, musical saw, stompbox); Bridget Law (fiddle, octave fiddle); Charlie Rose (banjo, pedal steel, guitar, horns, cello, double bass); Dango Rose (double bass, mandolin, banjo); and Daniel Rodriguez (guitar, banjo, double bass). With more than four albums under their belt, the band has found their groove in lyrics and melodies, and with a devoted listen, you can hear the music speak on the band’s newest album, Petals.

The album begins with the love song “Hello You Who.” Bonnie leads the vocals here, singing greetings to the one who holds her close and dances with her. The song establish’s the band’s folk style well, with a good mix of acoustic guitar, fiddle, and upright bass behind the vocals. “Peace Tonight” has a great, catchy melody with a mix of guitars, fiddle, and pedal steel along with more vocal harmonies from the band. The lyrics tell the story of a woman who seems to be praying for the people around her. She wishes them, no matter who they are or what they’re dealing with, to have peace as the day ends and night falls.

The title track has more electric guitar and percussion in a production that bounces between tempo and styles throughout. It creates a bit of a jarring listen, but shows some versatility in the group as musicians, who are committed to creating a different sonic atmosphere within each song. “On and On” is one of the more vague songs on the album, but it works as the listener is able to draw their own interpretation from the lyrics. I interpret the song about people committing themselves to a lie, and carrying that lie with them in public while it secretly eats at them.

The steel guitar and fiddle are brilliantly showcased on “Raindrops.” A quiet, spacial production that builds to a great fiddle solo, the melody moves with the lyrics. The song encourages one to take a step back and relax amid the chaos of a storm in life. Elephant Revival frequently use water as symbol throughout the songs, which goes along with the album art depicts a woman rowing a boat. Water can symbolize several things: It could be calming/refreshing, a symbol for new life or the beginning of a new cycle, or the flow of emotions and representation that things change. And in the cases where water shows up on the album, it symbolizes calming or a changing journey.

Elephant Revival also use the symbol of changing seasons as a metaphor for breakups in “Season Song.” Through the feeling of living things dying in the fall and the cold of winter, into the spring, the season of rebirth, the lyrics clearly deal with overcoming the end of a relationship. With a faint Celtic influence in their writing and production, the Elephant Revival tap into that with “Furthest Shore.” A journey through water as the story tells of a boy who is separated from his mother. The upright bass and fiddle are present in the song as well as some Irish accents in the vocals.

Water pops up again with “Sea Monster.” It’s more of country song with the banjo and fiddle in the mix. Lyrically, the song depicts a search for something, and the ups and downs of success, with the temptations of the Siren’s song luring the searcher away from the goal. With many songs dealing with symbolic metaphors, “When I Fall” sounds a bit out place. The song is rather basic, lyrically, skirting around spiritual themes without fleshing out any sort symbolism or direct story. I suppose it’s another song that could read like a prayer, but even so, it’s not as fleshed out as “Peace Tonight.”

The final use of water on Petals comes in “Home in Your Heart.” Almost like a river baptism, the song deals with the rebirth and new beginnings in life. The album ends on a strong note in the melodies. The use of strings are well done, and even though the songs are slower, they compliment the lyrics. And in the final song, “Close as Can Be,” the lyrics tell the story of a woman trying to move on from the death of a loved one. Bonnie Paine’s vocals are spot on as she sings about how the memories will keep them as close as can be.

Petals is a well written album, exploring common life situations with new symbolism and different approaches. Sonically, though, the band take an approach of “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” The song’s melodies stay in the Elephant Revival comfort zone as heard on the band’s previous albums. With that said, Petals is a good folk/Americana album worth listening exploring.

Grade: 7/10

The Hodgepodge: Beyoncé’s Visual Album ‘Lemonade’ and Music’s Next Steps

On April 23, pop sensation Beyoncé dropped another surprise album for her fans. However, unlike 2013’s Beyoncé, this surprise album Lemonade also included a surprise HBO special. This one-hour program was a visual aid to the album, essentially a string of music videos for the album’s songs, interlude with an original poem written by Warsan Shire. That’s breaking it down to almost nothing, because the album, listening to it or watching it, is deep. It’s more than just a call-out to her husband Jay-Z who may or may not have cheated. In an age where social justice is at the forefront of many of today’s issues, Beyoncé’s Lemonade gives a voice to African-American women. A voice that challenges stereotypes and the treatment this group of women tend to receive from the public.

Beyoncé not only simply uses music, but an entire album in multiple media, to send her message. She connects with her core audience in the best way she knows: writing and singing songs. And she takes this a step further with the visual album. As many of the songs deal directly with the anger, confusion, and worry of a possible cheating husband, the visuals on the album tell a more complete story.

Now there’s an elephant in the room that quickly needs to be addressed: Tidal. For a short time, Lemonade, was solely available through Tidal: the music streaming service owned in part by Jay-Z and Beyoncé. It’s obvious that, to some degree, the purpose of Lemonade’s surprise release was to boost sales and interest in the streaming service. In the wake of Lemonade’s release, Tidal saw a huge increase in downloads and online searches. This is only a part-time victory for Tidal, as Lemonade also became available through Apple Music only a day after its release to Tidal. But I also believe that message spoken loudly in Lemonade was also part of Beyoncé’s honest motivation for creating the album.

I’m a big proponent for albums and singers/songwriters using their artistic ability to tell stories and spread messages through the album format. I would love to see more of it in country music. For the most part, country music tends to build albums with songs not generally connected by a theme. It’s not a bad thing, and there are some great albums (Traveller, for instance) that don’t necessarily follow a theme or concept. Albums like Sturgill Simpson’s latest two albums, Southern Family, and Red-Headed Stranger are fantastic examples of concept albums in the genre.

The beauty of devoting a whole album to a story and message is seeing an artist stretch his or her creativity beyond other albums. Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and A Sailor’s Guide to Earth both showcase Sturgill Simpson stretching the genre of country music and his own personal musical prowess, exploring different avenues for the songs’ production. Beyoncé’s Lemonade shows the pop star letting outside genres influence certain songs or chapters of the story, including a country/western influence on “Daddy’s Lessons.”

Unfortunately, mainstream country is too controlled by Music Row who wouldn’t dare risk any loss of revenue by experimenting with a concept or visual album. Artists working independently have the creative freedom to create such an album if they so choose, which is why we see Americana artists release more theme-oriented albums. Now these independent artists don’t necessarily have the same resources as Beyoncé to create a visual representation of their album, but I would like to see more creative visual representations of the music from these artists.

Dierks Bentley is doing a smaller version of a visual album with his own four-part mini-movie over the course of four songs from his upcoming album Black. While this is as much of a marketing ploy for Black as it is a creative display of his music, it’s still something different and I respect the effort from Dierks. While the Black mini-movie isn’t as symbolic as Lemonade, it’s nonetheless a visual representation of the songs – a creative music video that goes beyond three minutes. As music continues to move toward the digital medium, away from radio, and away from music videos on TV, mini-movies for the albums would be a good move forward that I’d be excited to see more of from my favorite artists.

Upcoming/Recent Americana and Country Releases

  • Mary Chapin Carpenter‘s The Things That We Are Made Of will be released tomorrow.
  • Cindy Lauper‘s Detour will also be released tomorrow.
  • Also released tomorrow is Ryan Beaver‘s Rx.
  • Jennifer Nettles’ newest album, Playing With Fire will be released next week on May 13.
  • Americana singer/songwriter Michaela Anne‘s newest album, Bright Lights and the Fame will also be released on the 13th.
  • We’ll soon have a review for the Elephant Revival‘s Petals, released last month.

Throwback Thursday Song

“That Ain’t No Way to Go” by Brooks and Dunn. Hearing Brooks and Dunn perform last Sunday at the ACCA’s was a treat. Ronnie Dunn’s voice is one of country’s best. This 1993 number one hit was released on their album Hard Workin’ Man.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Beyoncé’s Lemonade.

Tweet of the Week

A milestone always worth mentioning.

iTunes Review

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This was left under Florida Georgia Line’s newest single “H.O.L.Y.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

The Hodgepodge: My Favorite Hidden and Forgotten Country Gems

Country music is full of great artists and songs that carry out the rich tradition of country music. Most of these artists don’t get their deserved spotlight or recognition for whatever reason. Below I’ve listed some of my favorite artists and songs that we haven’t really covered here on Country Perspective. And I’ve also tossed in a deep cut from a mainstream artist for good measure. As always, the goal of this is just throw out some names and songs you may not be familiar in an effort to introduce you to some good music you may have missed along the way.

Levi Lowrey – “Wherever We Break Down”

Levi Lowrey is a collaborator with the Zac Brown Band, but has three rather good albums of his own. I think Lowrey is a great songwriter and has a wonderful voice. “Wherever We Break Down” is one of my favorite songs from Lowrey. It’s a love song about a couple trying to make ends meet.

Michaela Anne – “Lift Me Up”

I first heard this song while standing in line at Starbucks and it immediately caught my attention. One of the few times I ever used the app Shazam was with this song and thus I discovered Michaela Anne. A great callback country sound and a budding Americana star with an album due out later this year, Michaela Anne is a name you should familiarize yourself with if you haven’t yet.

Chris Young – “The Dashboard”

Back before he was singing bro country or boring heartbreak songs, Chris Young sang true, traditional story country songs. His first two albums are gems themselves. This song revolves around a pickup truck, but the story is nostalgic trip through time between the narrator and his military brother.

Keeley Valentino – “Hosea”

Keeley Valentino’s most recent EP got high praise from me, and I think she is one of the best vocalists I’ve heard. Off her second album, Three Cities, this song deals with the central characters trying to overcome a tough life at home. She wrote this with Randey Foster, and showcases great storytelling and delivery.

The Wood Brothers – “The Muse”

Zac Brown Band covered this song on their Grohl Sessions Vol. 1 EP, but The Wood Brothers’ original recording is one to listen to. Much more stripped back with a sound akin to Mumford & Sons, The Wood Brothers have 10 years worth of music to dive into.

Judson Cole Band – “Poor Widow’s Fate”

This Texas band released their debut album late in 2014, an album which I reviewed. It’s still a rather new song, but I song I wanted to highlight again because the more I listen to it, the better I like it. A slick, rowdy southern rock song dealing with an outlaw cowboy. The chorus is catchy and the song’s writing is sharp.

I’d love to hear some of your favorite lesser known country acts, albums, or deep cuts from more well-known artists.

Upcoming and Recent Country Releases

  • Robbie Fulks Upland Stories will be released Friday, April 1st.
  • Elephant Revival will release Petals on April 1st.
  • Granger Smith’s newest single will be “If The Boot Fits.” We’ll have a review for that song soon.
  • On The ACM’s, Carrie Underwood will sing “Church Bells” her next radio single.
  • Keith Urban’s new single is called “Wasted Time.”

Throwback Thursday Songs

In honor of the newest inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame, I’m going to have two Throwback Thursday Songs, one from Charlie Daniels and one from Randy Travis. Producer Fred Foster was the third inductee this year. Foster’s career highlights include producing some of Ray Orbison’s biggest hits like “Oh, Pretty Woman.” Foster also helped jump-start Dolly Parton’s career as well as Kris Kristofferson, with whom Foster co-wrote “Me and Bobby McGee.”

“Devil Went Down to Georgia” Charlie Daniels Band

 

“Forever And Ever Amen” Randy Travis

 

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

“Only Love Can Break Your Heart” by Neil Young. This song inspired a novel of the same written by Ed Tarkington. I recently finished the novel and went on a little Neil Young kick afterwards, as classic rock shows up quite a bit throughout the novel. This was recorded on Young’s After The Gold Rush in 1970, and became his first top-40 single.

Tweet of the Week

In a rare public appearance since his stroke, Randy Travis made his way to the podium and said “Thank You” in response to learning of his induction to the Country Music HOF.

A Great iTunes Review

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From Kane Brown’s EP, this review highlights some great points for making good country music by quoting the chorus from David Allan Coe’s “The Ride.”