Reuben Bidez

Reuben Bidez

Something to Say, the second EP from forward-thinking folk rocker Reuben Bidez, is an analog album for the digital age. Raw and reflective, it holds a mirror to the machines that make the modern world tick, from politics to sexual appetites to social media. Along the way, Bidez shows the full range not only of his voice — an elastic instrument, with an upper register and rich vibrato that have earned comparisons to Jeff Buckley and Roy Orbison — but of his songwriting chops, too.

He's a tongue-in-cheek rabble rouser on the EP's title track, urging America's wannabe movers-and-shakers to stop "grandstanding from your sofa" and, instead, take a real stand. "Nothing says 'revolution' like clogging up the interstate," he sings during the final verse, while electric guitars, 12-string acoustics, and vintage keyboards chime in the background. Fellow Nashvillian Molly Parden makes an appearance on "What You Really Wanted," a rainy-day duet whose harmonies nod to Fleetwood Mac. Later, Bidez turns up the tempo and the volume on "Bad Name," the fiercest rock song he's ever released.

Together, Something to Say's six songs reflect and respond to the contemporary world, offering something real in an age of Facebook algorithms and Twitter feeds. Not only has Bidez found his voice; he's found something current and compelling to sing about, too.

"On earlier records, I focused a lot on romance and relationships," says the songwriter, whose 2016 release, Turning to Wine, earned him a slot at the Bonnaroo Festival, as well as acclaim from outlets like American Songwriter, No Depression, and The New York Times. "But I've learned that great art is sometimes divisive, and I have thoughts about where the world is going and where our culture is headed. I've got something to say. This isn't the time for me to write love songs — it's time to take a stand and do something that, maybe, not everyone wants to hear."

Although written in Nashville — his adopted hometown since 2014, when the Georgia-born Bidez left Atlanta and moved to Tennessee — Something to Say was largely recorded with producer Jeff Saenz in Dallas, TX. There, during a week-long session at Modern Electric Sound Recorders, he found himself free to explore a sound that reached far beyond the usual boundaries of Americana. He was charting new territory, assisted by a group of instrumentalists — including past and present members of the Texas Gentlemen — who've collectively performed alongside artists like Regina Spektor, St. Vincent, Midlake, and the Quaker City Night Hawks.

"You discover new things about yourself when you leave 'the familiar' behind," he explains. "It's tempting to stay in one place and chase down one sound, because that's comfortable. But it doesn't mean you'll be making good art. I needed to leave some old patterns behind. I needed a challenge."

The decision to record in Dallas was partially influenced by the Texas Gentlemen, several of whom had already become Bidez's personal friends. More friends awaited back home in Nashville, where he wound up finishing the EP alongside longtime bandmates like Wyatt Funderburk and Seth Plemmons, as well as Marren Morris drummer and fellow Atlantan Christian Paschall. It was good company. More importantly, it was good music, influenced by everything from the warm-sounding fretwork of George Harrison to the heartland epics of Tom Petty.

Bidez and company recorded most songs in a series of live takes, emphasizing vibe over perfection. They stretched their legs on "Bad Name," a rock & roll ripper that builds its way toward a fiery, psychedelic finish, and kept things taut on "Don't Let Me Die," a sharp, swaggering pop song about a life lived far too carelessly. On the EP's anthemic closer, "Desert," dueling slide guitars trace circles around a gauzy synthesizer, while an acoustic guitar keeps the song from drifting skyward. The result is an anthem that's both grounded and ethereal — a soundtrack for, as Bidez puts it, "the horizon where desert and space meet."

On the EP's cover, Reuben Bidez looks into the corner of a mirror, resulting in a triple reflection. It's an appropriate visual for an album that deals with big themes like identity. "The whole album is a reflection of the times in which we're living, where the line between reality and virtual reality can become blurred easily," he explains. "It's about the struggle to be honest — about having the confidence not to play some sort of role, but to be who you really are. I'm not a traditional Americana artist by any means, and I'm not a folk artist. I'm not a rocker. I'm me… and this record is me learning how to really own that sound."

"I think the first thing I heard from the record was ‘Separate Ways’ and it immediately reminded me of the best parts of what I liked about Bob Dylan's Time Out of Mind. It took me back a bit to think that there wasn't a wider audience that had heard it yet, and I wanted to figure out a way to change that."

It’s high praise to be compared to the gentleman who arguably invented the job description for every songwriter that came after him, especially on a debut record. But Don Dilego, who is releasing Carl Anderson's LP Risk of Loss on Velvet Elk Records, is onto something. Carl Anderson, a young singer and songwriter from Virginia, has a rare authenticity, a quality that manages to be both self-assured and yet decidedly free from pretension-- a subtle confidence and humility that puts him in step with an older stock of songwriter. It’s a voice that manages to be both virtuosic and yet free from airs; never outshining the simplicity in his words; words that never outshine the song. And like all great songs, they always seem to dictate the motions of our hearts before our heads have time to figure out exactly what they're about.

Carl Anderson's story reads like the stuff of legend. It’s almost too perfect-- like a page torn from the annals of the American Songbook, or the unread script of a made-for-TV special on what we want our artists to look like. Carl was born in rural Wolftown, Virginia to a father who was a part time folk singer and full-time wanderer. Known simply as "Virginia Slim" to his fellow travelers in the "hobo circuit", Carl's father had been riding trains across the country singing and working dead end jobs since leaving home at 10 years old. Though Carl was raised on the fidelity of a single mother that gave everything to her family, he still carries with him vague memories of his father as a charming man with a beautiful melancholic tenor that Carl's mother would come to recognize in her own son. He was a man with obvious gifts, but with a darkness inside of him that only those who were closest to him were able to see. It was a darkness that wrecked his family, and left him unable to cope with a life that wasn't in a constant state of unrest. Carl’s only distinct memories are of his mother gathering his brother and sister to leave the house in the dark of night when he was only 6 years old-- fleeing a situation that had become too painful to bear.

When Carl hit his teenage years and found himself unequivocally drawn back to the same vocation of a father he barely knew, it must have been both enchanting as well as terrifying. As Carl sings on Different Darkness: “We're not that different / same wanderlust, met with a different darkness / I can see his face in mine.” While the story itself might seem a like a vignette of songwriting folklore, for those who have to live with it, the pain is all too real.

The fact that Carl Anderson inherited a rare gift is clear, but what every artist can never know is the reality of whether that gift is going to save him or destroy him. The whole vocation is an act of faith that it’s worth the risk.

It’s this tension at the heart of Risk of Loss, not simply the story, that gives this particular collection of songs an unmistakable authenticity that hits you as a listener long before the depth of meaning sinks in. The substance and source of the melancholy and yearning that runs throughout the record remains deceptively elusive. It’s sometimes unclear precisely who the singer is addressing-- a former lover, a father he barely knew, or even God-- but this is precisely what makes Risk of Loss as purely compelling and universal as some of the best in a long tradition of American songwriting. It’s the sort of authenticity that can't be cheaply bought like the archaic instruments and anachronistic outfits that plague the genre. Carl is finally doing what every great writer does-- he is writing to discover who he is. A young man who was born to sing.

$8.00 - $12.00


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