Roman – Empire – Album Review
Well now. I’d be willing to bet that the mischievous smile on Roman’s face on the cover of his new album Empire could be likely inspired by the story on the opening tune, “Come On Over Here.” What a beginning to an album and what a visual first-impression; I was half-convinced I’d be listening to a new rapper trying to claim the throne…but fun FACT for you, ”Come On Over Here” not a hip-hop song at all! Instead, what “Come On Over Here” instantly reveals about Roman’s Empire and the music you’ll find on it, is that there’s a seriously capable, skilled musician at work here…one that writes intensely clever lyrics in a folk-storyteller’s style that includes a stunning amount of added ideas into the overall sound to expand what’s happening on this record well-outside of any one genre. You’ll hear what I’m talking about though – I’m confident in that because you immediately hear Roman’s ability to craft an incredible tale into a song right away through “Come On Over Here” and the prevalent aspects of smart & witty lyricism continue to surge strongly from the album’s first moments forward. “Come On Over Here” almost dips into a more blues-rock inspired sound than the rest of the record – but this is one seriously impressive beginning to a record. Talk about grabbing our attention – I’m listening to EVERY word and this guy is KILLIN’ IT. Again…it certainly explains the smile on the face on the cover of Empire. Smooth as it gets in style & sound and delivered with a masterfully dry sense of humor – great start.
“Boy From Salt Lake” was a decent tune as well…decidedly more serious than the opening tune, which does take a second or two to adjust to. Listen to the flute sounds, record scratches and bass-lines that fuel the music of this song alongside the guitars and percussion – there’s really innovative and smart stuff happening and taking shape on this record that’s easy to hear. Vocally, check out the amazing stroll this guy goes on through the dictionary here…he packs a lot into the words and imagery of “Boy From Salt Lake” and tells a real journey of a tale here. Love the ideas he’s put into the ending of this cut on the vocals and the way he drives the ultimate messages & points he’s trying to make home in the song’s final moments. This would be what you’d call one of them complete idea things.
I can’t resist songs with energy like you’ll find on “Not My Fault,” just for the record. Beautifully clean pop-rock sound here…also including a rad banjo gettin’ on down throughout the song in between verses – those verses are exceptional and the chorus is true magic. A real gem and a highlight in its sweetened energy and uplifting sound, make no mistake – much of the lyricism consists of bone-cutting observations on relationship breakdowns. Boosted even further from the standout vocals of rapper Leecy T – she sounds AWESOME as she comes in off the top ropes to slay the bars as a featured guest on “Not My Fault.” That’s a real highlight-reel worthy assist right there is what that is – Leecy T is purely electrifying and incredibly entertaining in the throes of energy and melody of “Not My Fault.”
Roman takes the atmosphere into more gentle territory after the energy-burst of the catchy hooks on “Not My Fault” with a powerful tune called “Saints.” You see…there’s a common thread that I strongly believe truly exists with people that are naturally funny like Roman is…they can also do sincere just as well. Think of artists that you’ve seen on screen from Robin Williams to Jim Carrey to Tom Hanks…it’s that similar kind of magic & artistic perception that picks up on something special & has a high-degree of adaptability that seems to be able to transfer quickly between emotions. Roman’s striking that similarly interesting balance between his jokes and serious-tunes so far…almost like he’s been rotating between his material and plucking one from each side of his personality, placing them on the record on after the other. “Saints” does a good job of highlighting his more sincere side…it’s parked in what I’d consider the most impossible spot to succeed in on the entire record in between “Not My Fault” and “Only Love Remains” so admittedly, it’s going to have to fight for the attention it deserves. Beautiful combination of vocals on “Saints” between the lead from Roman and the alternating between the female & backing vocals…I think it’s an alright track, performed well and written with real focus in the lyricism, but I do think it’s got the most challenging position on the album by far.
What’s not to love about the good-time vibe you’ll find in the melody of “Only Love Remains?” Roman performs this expertly and really makes the most out of his time on the mic with a set of lyrics just as energetic and inspired as the music is. LOVE the sound of the drums on this tune, especially in the solo/instrumental section…but what really pulls us into “Only Love Remains” is the incredibly sweet tones that Roman puts into the hooks of the chorus on this cut…their power to pull us all in is impossible to ignore. Sounding like a young Elvis Costello on this tune, the melody is wonderfully bright and the energy is extremely uplifting on “Only Love Remains.” One of those songs where I have to really hand it to Roman for creating a verse that damn near outshines the chorus…it’s a seriously close call on this track as to what part you’ll love more – but I’m telling ya, odds are that you WILL love it all in one way or another.
He does a solid job on the album’s title-track “Empire” and pours sincerity into the mic with confidence. Reminds me a lot of Toad The Wet Sprocket on this particular cut…great mix of that pop/rock/folk atmosphere. “Empire” moves gently along in a real stunning way – Roman’s got a great structure in the backbone of this tune that sounds comforting, tried, tested & true. I think it showcases the serious-side to his music in a really beautiful and powerful light; definitely a track that’s worthy of the album’s title and the selection for that honor couldn’t have been an easy decision with as much gold as there is laying around the ol’ Empire.
OMG. The song “Dirty Bird” damn near made me spit my coffee all over the place here. When the music broke down for the first time and you hear Roman say ‘the dirty bird gets the worm’ – I mean, c’mon people…that’s pure GENIUS is what that is. It is honestly SICK how well Roman does up-tempo pop/rock style tunes like “Not My Fault,” “Only Love Remains” and “Dirty Bird” – those are all prime examples of sounds people will WANT to hear, straight-up. You include the unbelievably dry, subtle & sly humor that Roman packs into certain tunes and I think there’s a real recipe for greatness here. They’re not weak jokes and they’re not weak songs – he’s got an amazing sense of humor when he flexes that muscle and the musicianship, writing, performance and production are equally incredible. What he’s written will truly hold up over time – there are TONS of reasons to love what he’s doing. The rhythm and roll of “Dirty Bird” and the amazing lyrics he’s written here will completely have you digging Roman’s attitude, character and sense of humor…I mean…I’m seriously going to be chuckling about this cut for days and days to follow – this is complete genius and massively fun to listen to. Check out the video for this single-worthy tune below!
Take the energetic rhythm & groove of “Without You Here” – and just have a listen to how many genres this ONE song could find itself involved in. How about anywhere from folk, pop, rock, gospel, country…pick a card any card…doesn’t matter what you choose because Roman’s already holding all the aces. Even when he crosses over into more country-inspired sounds like on “Without You Here” I can’t deny just how much I’m loving what I’m hearing from this guy. There is SO MUCH passion and genuine enthusiasm in Roman’s music it is 100% contagious in all the best of ways and brings a huge smile to your face. I know I’ve said it already, but listen to the amount of character he’s got in the way he sings “Without You Here” and how smartly he writes his vocal-flow and carries the cadence of the words. I love the fiddle sounds and the sweet-beat of the percussion…the banjo is absolutely killin’ it as well – but really, it’s the way this guy can transition flows between his verses and choruses that creates the real magic of “Without You Here.” He’s written great parts for himself and really knows the material extremely well – as a result, he sounds perfectly focused and entirely professional in with all the FUN.
“U – Me = 0” takes us the furthest away from the mischievous smile that adorns the cover of Empire and into the album’s most sincere & sentimental terrain. I have no real problems with this sound either! Like I said, Roman’s just naturally gifted and seems to be able to adapt strongly into any mood and atmosphere. There ended up being songs I preferred from him – but that’s true of ANY album out there. Really impressed by the lyricism of this album, really dig what he’s written into “U – Me = 0” and once again marveling at how well this artist is able to switch between styles and sounds so effortlessly and how willing we are as listeners to accept it song after song. His personality creates the cohesion we’re looking for in a complete record…it’s because of that that nothing seems out of place. “U – Me = 0” might be the more sad & reflective part of his personality on this record, but it does well to give the entire album a different dynamic and comes out sounding tremendously heartfelt, raw and real. Extra credit to the absolutely amazing trumpet work on this tender tune.
Lighting up the rhythm section once again, “No More” really has life in its blood…between the sweet addition of trumpets and a lighter funk-rock-influenced sound, he brings the tempo up to get people moving once more before the album’s tender finale. Excellent confident tones in his vocals and smart effects used sparingly, well-placed backing vocals…”No More” has a slow-burning beauty to its melody. Almost like a Spin Doctors tune in a way, but not so ridiculously over the top…I really dig this vibe he’s got going on with “No More.” Some of my favorite breakdowns and instrumentation are right here on this song…definitely one of the best guitar solos on the record, it’s short and sweet but the tone is absolutely incredible. “No More” works a really hypnotic but catchy groove – a real pleasure to listen to and get lost right into. Also includes the slickest name-drop ever in reference to Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” – how he works that in here is another real indication of the innovative abilities Roman has.
If you want to hear a beautiful melody this year…if you’re looking for something sweet, something tender and something sincere – look no further than the end of this record and the song “Thank You.” His lyrics are crafted so incredibly well – this guy really deserves a lot of credit as a songwriter to begin with, but songs like “Thank You” really do a lot to up his street-cred even that much further. I absolutely adore the ending of this album…it’s a beautiful reflection on life, love & relationships…a song about the effects of time in relation to the life he’s led presumably. Please notice…the song is called “Thank You” – and understand what a genuinely humble and appreciative statement that truly is and has certainly become on this song…you can completely tell he means exactly what he says here. On an album full of impressive tunes, he might have very well ended this one with what might even be my favorite…”Thank You” is an exceptionally beautiful tune and great way to end the experience on a conclusive note.
And thus that real gift ends the record, revealing itself once more. When this craftsman wants to make you laugh, he will – and when he wants you to feel the emotion, mood & atmosphere of sincerity, he can do that too. This was a tremendous experience and an album that showcases the multiple layers, true depths and diverse, versatile nature of a real songwriter’s songwriter – this guy has extraordinary talent and brings a truly unique perspective to music.
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