Album Review – The Lumineers’ ‘Cleopatra’

The Lumineers Cleopatra

About four years ago if you recall there was a big folk revival that took place. This was of course made possible by the previous folk revival around the turn of the millennium when the success of the soundtrack for the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?, as it took home a Grammy and gave way to the rise of other folk acts like Emmylou Harris and Old Crow Medicine Show. The latter group is what inspired one of two bands that were central to the 2012 folk revival, Mumford & Sons. The other band at the center of this revival was The Lumineers. Many of you probably know them from their smash hit “Ho Hey,” which alongside Mumford & Sons’ “I Will Wait” captured people’s attentions everywhere. Fast forward to today and now Mumford & Sons have abandoned their banjo and went electric, something that really didn’t surprise people. But The Lumineers certainly haven’t abandoned the sound that caught everyone’s attention. And they show no signs of stopping either.

The Lumineers are made up of founding members Wesley Schultz (vocals, guitar) and Jeremiah Fraites (drums, piano), along with Neyla Pekarek (cellist, backing vocalist) who joined the band in 2010. Schultz and Fraites write all of the songs on their albums. And now four years after their successful self-titled album, they return with their sophomore followup, Cleopatra. Before you listen to the album there’s one quote you should remember when you listen to it and that comes from Schultz, who said this regarding it, “We want to focus on the core, not the illusion.” Trust me once you hear the album, you’ll understand.

Cleopatra begins with “Sleep on the Floor,” an adventurous song where a man urges his woman to pick up her stuff and travel the country with him. The Lumineers’ usual roots-y, folk rock, guitar-driven sound makes the song catchy and easy to enjoy. The whole album doesn’t really stray at all from this sound. The album’s lead single “Ophelia” follows. It’s a reflective, somewhat upbeat song about a woman who was once in the man’s life. Well on the surface it’s seem like, as on their site The Lumineers say it “personifies fame as a dangerous temptress.” The piano play by Fraites is great and really drives the song well. The album title track tells the story of a woman who has experienced tragedy in her life. Most notably it deals with how she was too late for the love of her life, letting life pull her away from someone she loved and wanted to marry. The inspiration for the song came from a woman Schultz met in the Republic of Georgia. She’s a cab driver who told her tragic life story to him. It inspired the group to write this song and make it their album’s name. The story and lyrics are so tragically beautiful, really personifying the whole album.

“Gun Song” is about a man discovering his father’s pistol after he died, unaware his father owned a pistol. The man himself doesn’t own a single gun, so it comes as a surprise to him. He then reflects on his life and hopes to be more than his father’s son someday. One of my favorites on Cleopatra is “Angela.” It’s a soft tale of a woman who left her small town to pursue bigger things, but now returns to it. This is despite the people in the town who like to sing her praises only to cut her down. But she returns to a man she loves, a place she can call home. It’s a story about finding what truly makes you happy. The instrumentation fits perfectly with the story, with its earthy, somewhat soaring tone.

This is followed by another beautiful song, “In The Light.” It’s about two people who can’t let go of the old memories of being together. They can’t stop thinking about each other until finally they meet again and they embrace, telling each other to never let go again. The acoustics and piano really blend together well and help tell this love story. “Gale Song” was part of the soundtrack for the movie, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and shows up again here. It’s apparently told from the point of view from a character in the movie named Gale. I’ve heard plenty about the books and movies for this series, but have never read or watched any of them. So it’s really hard to have some thoughts on this one. It does seem to fit the overall theme of the album, which is dealing with love and loneliness.

The rawest, emotional song on the album is hands-down “Long Way From Home.” It’s a sad story about a man who shares a hospital room with a man dying of a disease, probably cancer. He hopes the man can find his way home (die peacefully) soon. This happens, but not before the last words he hears from the man are moans for “more morphine.” It’s a haunting song to say the least. The eerie sounding “Sick in the Head” is next and it’s probably one of the more confusing songs on the album. It seems to be about seizing your own life and not letting others’ opinions control it. The song is quite short and as I said the theme isn’t that clear.

The waltzing “My Eyes” tells the old story of watching someone you care for make mistakes before your very eyes. You’re angry to see them get take advantage of, yet you feel betrayed they wouldn’t listen to you. It also ties into one of the main themes of the album of avoiding the corruption that fame can bring to a person. This is probably the most complete song on Cleopatra, as everything just works perfectly together. The instrumental “Patience” brings the album to a close. While an odd choice to end the album with this type of song, it makes a lot of sense after hearing the entire thing a few times because listening to this album is tiring. “Patience” allows your brain to unwind and to digest what you’ve just heard on the first ten songs.

Overall Cleopatra is a mentally exhausting album after you give it a really good listen, but it will reward you for the troubles. The themes explored throughout are complex and will send your thoughts reeling after hearing them. It’s definitely not the type of album you can pick up and immediately “get it.” One thing though that helps you digest these lyrics is the catchy instrumentation that is present mostly throughout. It’s really easy to get sucked into the album based just on the instrumentation, as it’s light and flawless. The piano play really flourishes when it shows up. The instrumentation draws you in and makes you stay, but the lyrics make you appreciate it even more. The Lumineers prove with this album that they’re here to stay and they’re more than some brief folk revival. They’re a band worthy of your attention and if you listen to Cleopatra, you will be rewarded.

Grade: 8/10

Review – Steven Tyler’s “Love Is Your Name”

Steven Tyler Love Is Your Name

It’s 2015 and I’m writing a review for a song by Steven Tyler. Not just a song by Tyler, but a country song. What a world we live in. One of the newest trends in country music is artists coming over from other genres where they’re no longer relevant and churning out their own brand of country music because country music will pretty much accept anything nowadays. This goes back to my argument about needing gatekeepers in the genre, but that’s a whole other can of worms. The person I believe to be the most responsible for this is Scott Borchetta. He started it by having his artists do a tribute album to Mötley Crüe last year. Not to mention he’s responsible for Florida Georgia Line, Brantley Gilbert and Thomas Rhett. Borchetta also signed Tyler to Dot Records. Still as much as I hate this as a fan, you have to applaud him for his business acumen. Borchetta is evil, but he’s smart and knows how to make money.

There is definitely money in a Steven Tyler country album. After all many old rock fans have flocked to country music, now that rock is non-existent in the mainstream realm. Everyone is aware of Steven Tyler of course through his heydays as the frontman of the iconic rock band Aerosmith. You can’t deny the major impact Tyler and Aerosmith has made on American music, as they’ve produced numerous great hits and a recognizable brand across the world. They also helped usher in one of the most influential hip-hop groups in history, Run-D.M.C. to crossover and mainstream success when they allowed them to cover “Walk This Way.” Needless to say Aerosmith has a laundry list of accomplishment and no way can deny their impact. So coming into this I’m well aware of Tyler’s successes and I knew there would be some musicianship on display in his lead single “Love Is Your Name.”

The big question though: Does it sound country? Surprisingly yes. I expected a much more rock oriented song and this is actually better than I expected it to be. The theme of the song is nothing complex, as it’s a love song about a man professing his feelings for a woman. Despite it sounding weird to hear Tyler in a country song, his vocals aren’t bad and fit more into the country sound than I thought it would. The instrumentation is a combination of a violin, banjo and guitar with drum loops. The sound is not too different from Mumford & Sons on their last album Babel. This actually sounds like something that comes from country radio, something a lot of songs on country radio right now can’t claim. So yes Tyler, the rock singer, sounds more country than country artists.

“Love Is Your Name” is not a bad song, but it’s not a good song either. There’s nothing special about it and the theme of the song has been done to death, although I think it was smart for Tyler to do a love song as his first single. The production is decent, but it could have been better. The same could be said of the lyrics. The “ohs” in the bridge are unnecessary and hurt the song a little. Other than that, this is an above average song that I think will do well at country radio. The former rock fans should enjoy it and many mainstream country fans should enjoy the song’s carefree attitude and simple theme. Tyler’s first foray into country music could have been much worse and this is the kind of start he needed (at the very least) if he wants to be taken seriously in the genre. Based on the current state of country radio, this will be one of the better songs on it this summer. Steven Tyler played it safe with this song, but it was the best choice he could make.

Grade: 6/10

Review – Kenny Chesney’s “American Kids”

When I first heard this song, I was taken aback by it and really didn’t know how to feel about it. First off, it wasn’t a beach song. Chesney has been living off these songs for the last decade, so when it wasn’t a beach song I think my ears were startled because they’ve been trained to expect it. Chesney’s last hit single, “Pirate Flag,” was just awful and had been a while since Chesney has done something that made me think. Second, is that supposed to be hipsters on the cover of this single? Is this Chesney’s new angle? I digress. Compared to other blogs that strive for more traditional sounding country music, Country Perspective isn’t as hard on Kenny Chesney for his songs. They aren’t meant to be taken seriously and they’re certainly easier to listen to than Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan songs. And that is the case once again with “American Kids.”

The song starts out with an electronic/acoustic beat, evoking similar sounds to Sugarland’s “Stuck on Glue,” another song I absolutely can’t stand. But you’ll realize that this song isn’t anything like that one and comparing the two is kind of silly. Chesney then begins to sing and the lyrics are blatantly laundry list. Several brands are listed off and other clichés about growing up in America are named. Now notice I said blatantly because this song is meant to make the listener experience nostalgia. While some listeners surely will experience nostalgia from hearing “American Kids,” I really don’t experience any nostalgia. Others will probably feel this way too because you really can’t sing a song about nostalgia, which is what this song is all about. It’s got to be the subject of the song that evokes it. For example, Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochee” reminds me of my days of youth in the summer spending time with my friends. Nostalgia is a personal thing. You can’t sing about a bunch of clichés in hopes to appeal to everyone’s nostalgia because everyone is different.

Now if you approach this song with the attitude of being carefree and fun, it’s a pretty good song in this aspect. I was tapping my feet as I listened to it because it is a very likable song. The clapping and the shouts of “hey” are a little annoying, but I’m able to overlook it. The instrumentation in “American Kids” tries to be like Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers, but it’s a light version of those respective bands’ sound. But that works because this is a party, summer anthem song that you dance to and aren’t supposed to find any significant meaning to it. I’m happy there isn’t any EDM or rapping involved. That in itself is an accomplishment.

I’m appreciative of Chesney trying to go outside the box. His last album Life On A Rock was a huge disappointment and didn’t garner a lot of attention. When making this next album apparently Chesney and his team had recorded and mixed the entire album when Chesney decided he hated it and they completely scrapped all of the material. They then made this song and the rest of his upcoming album. At least this shows Chesney cares about his music and isn’t trying to just makes “hits” like Jerrod Niemann admitted recently. “American Kids” is on fire on the iTunes charts and on Billboard. Expect to hear this play on radios for the rest of the summer.

Take this song for what’s it worth: A feel good song that is fun and light-hearted. It’s hard to hate “American Kids,” but I don’t love it either.

Grade: 6.5/10