Tabitha Elkins – Love + Death

 Tabitha Elkins – Love + Death

Tabitha Elkins – Love + Death – Album Review

As I’ve commented here on our pages many, many times throughout the years – you’re all the superheroes of our universe here at SBS.  Yes, YOU – the creative-types…the amazing artists…the incredible bands we’ve had the pleasure of listening to over the years – YOU pump the heartbeat of this place, daily.  With the amount of music we experience & listen to, it would be easy to assume that many get lost in the shuffle or forgotten over the years…and I’d be willing to bet that most people out there would assume that’s based on the quality of the material, which can be true, but it also comes down to what’s being offered in the identity of the personality & character of the music as well.  Essentially, there are multiple ways to be memorable…and I’ve never forgotten the badass creative-freedom that artist Tabitha Elkins put into her record Upside Down World back in 2016…this is a name I remember.

And for all the right reasons in my opinion; though the results themselves have always varied based on the fact that Tabitha’s completely unafraid to explore all kinds of different styles & sounds with her music – what impressed me back then is much the same as it is now, which is her solid embrace of the moment and committing to the ideas she has.  For better or worse, I’ll always admire artists with the significant amount of heart, passion, and creativity that someone like Elkins possesses…she’s in this for the pure love of the game…at the end of the day, that’s always what the core of music should be about.

Flexing her unique approach to Indie, Love + Death begins with “Playing Solitaire” and starts the set-list diving deep into artistic terrain, much as you’d expect if you’re familiar with Tabitha’s music from the past.  Overall, I dig the vibe and the writing quite a bit here…I have moments here & there with the vocals, sometimes I really love what’s going on, other times I can hear the complexity of the melody take a twist or turn I wasn’t as sure of – but what I found was that continually at the most pivotal points of the song, Tabitha came through when it was needed most.  She’s got an interesting & enchanting first tune with “Playing Solitaire” – it’s got a brighter sound than say, a track like “Greenfields” by Faultline & Michael Stipe, but a similar air of mystique to the melody that is definitely enticing to the ears and piques the curiosity quickly.  Interesting opening tune and a glimpse at the variation & diversity to come.

There are gonna be mad debates over “Hung Up On You” – so let me tell ya why I ended up on her side.  I mean…look…I get that there are going to be all kinds of people commenting on how she’s approached the vocals of this song…and chances are, there’s gonna be some validity in those comments.  I think it could definitely be argued that she’s not quite reaching that sweet-spot where she’s aiming to go with this tune from the microphone, but she is close, and it’s an exceptionally demanding song to sing in that respect.  It’s challenging, especially in the hooks, and you can hear that struggle to meet the demands that “Hung Up On You” have – I make no illusions about that – BUT…I’d also be willing to bet that on the strength of the writing, ideas, and melody you’ll find in those same very hooks, that this song WILL get stuck in your head.  Regardless of what you, I, or anyone else feel about a song of any kind one way or the other – when you have hooks that stick with ya, that is verifiable confirmation that there IS something there.  We can’t always put our fingers on it or explain why, but you’ll know two or three days later when you mentally recall the hooks of a song like “Hung Up On You” out of complete thin air, that there is indeed, something that pulls you back to this cut from Love + Death.

In direct comparison to help make the point, when you hear a style or approach that suits Tabitha and plays to her strengths, you can always hear it…there’s an organic connection that exists and thrives on songs like “Only Your Love Will Do.”  Almost more in a Blues/Soul style for ya on this third tune, the production flexes a little here, and it will throughout the record from song to song in many ways, but it also seems to help draw out the essence of the moment a bit more tangibly, telling a story about the music that’s unspoken, yet something we can hear in what’s being played – and how.  I’ve got no real complaints here at all…you can hear a like, Nina Simone-style potential in this song from Tabitha.  She’s a very performance-minded artist and those instincts for that style shine brightly and ferociously throughout the way she sings & sways through the edgy & empowered melody & words of “Only Your Love Will Do.”  No matter the style or sound, you can always tell Tabitha has genuine fun in creating her music, ready to roam into unique terrain like this head-on in a sincere effort to see what she’ll find.

I dig the throwback vibes on “I Don’t Understand” and the sixties-influenced sound it’s got.  Dig the tone of the guitars, love the backing vocals when they show up…Tabitha’s working her gypsy-vagabond style on this track…there’s rad stuff happening on “I Don’t Understand” – a little loose, but still some real highlight moments.  Like, listen to the guitar solo around the 3:10-ish area…short & sweet, but spot-on too – and soon after that, Tabitha will launch into one of her most powerful & expressive moments on the microphone that you’ll hear on the album to this point.  Definitely the kind of song where, the more you listen, the more you’ll get out of it…that’s both in content and length; Tabitha saves a lot of the biggest fireworks for the latter-half of this tune and the longer it plays on, the more is revealed.  I also dig that extra bit of rock’n’roll attitude & sneer in her voice as she sings this tune, there’s great attitude in the way she chooses to approach this tune, and the music surrounding her definitely calls for it.  Definitely an old-school & throwback vibe at work here on “I Don’t Understand,” but an effective one that seems to authentically suit the wild & free spirit that Tabitha Elkins most assuredly is in her music.

If I was lucky enough to be Tabitha Elkins for a single day, I’d be taking a hard look at “Why Do I Love You?/Botany” and why the uniqueness of this song has the potential to go from good to great.  Tone is getting the best of her vocally on this one though, there’s no question she’s not reaching the sweetness she’s looking for on this particular performance…which is almost too bad, because at the very outset of the song during its first minute or so, she’s BEYOND awesome.  She switches it up here though, and I felt like that cost her a bit on what “Why Do I Love You?/Botany” could become…everything right up to about the 1:45 mark is spot-on perfection…and after that, Tabitha, my friend…you know that’s not quite where you were looking to go with this one.  The main issue here becomes just how well the beginning of this song truly IS…it sets up the hope and expectation that the rest of the song will continue to reach that same strong standard.  Lyrically, I think she completely crushes this tune with some really exceptional writing…but between the 1:45 mark and 4:00, she is definitely singing with dissonant tones that clash a bit too hard with the intended or potential sweetness this melody needs.  After proving she’s more than capable of making that happen in the beginning of “Why Do I Love You?/Botany” – it makes you question the decisions being made afterwards, or wonder what the rush might have been.

The sweetness we’re looking for exists and thrives on “I Wish You Were Mine,” which is an exquisitely charming tune on Love + Death.  Definitely on the ‘love’ side of that equation, mind you…we’re going easy on the ‘death’ part, at least for this one tune here.  While it might ultimately be a tale of unrequited love, it’s also a noteworthy amount of fun – Tabitha puts in a really inspired performance throughout this whole song.  She might be wild’n’out in the final third of “I Wish You Were Mine” a little bit, but for the most part, there’s a beautiful passion on display in this song that would soften the hardest of hearts.  LOVE the tone of her guitar at the 2:20 mark…and overall, I really like the uplifting vibe that this song comes with; the falsetto notes get away from her at times, but what might be missing there is compensated by the exceptional guitars you’ll find subtly worked into the fabric of “I Wish You Were Mine.”

Musically, even though the volume will dip a lil’ bit for “Chessmen” to follow, it’s definitely one of my favorites from Love + Death with its College-Rock/Indie sound & style.  If you ever stayed up late at nights watching The Kids In The Hall and know the surf-rock tones you found roaming in between skits, you’ll know exactly why I brought that up – you get a lot of that radness right here on “Chessmen.”  Songwriting/lyric-wise, I think she’s got another really smart theme & focused track on her hands here; vocally some hits, some misses, but a great concept overall that shows the skills she puts into her craft.  What I’d probably advise Elkins with in a situation like this one, would be to be just as bold & explorative with the different potential sounds of how she could sing this…with its beautifully shiny-but-dirty-sweet melody & music, I’m saying I’d be inclined to try and find an effect that might help suit the strengths of the song.  Because the writing is solid…and I do actually think quite a bit of her performance on “Chessmen” reveals a lot of strong highlights for Tabitha’s vocals…I just can’t help but wonder what a grittier tone or effect might have brought to it.  You see how us music-critics work?  We want EVERYTHING and at ALL times – we’re greedy like that.  I was just asking for more enhanced sweetness in her tone a song or two back, here she is now delivering that very thing on “Chessmen,” and now of course I end up with a whole new list of demands right?  I should learn to take what I can get & be happy about it all I suppose…but you know me, if there’s an opportunity to help an artist learn, explore, evolve, or grow in their art & music, you know I’m gonna take a stab at trying to stoke that fire, 100%.

Good combination of piano & guitar as Tabitha dips into another Blues-inspired tune with “Over You.”  Not the happiest song you’re gonna hear by any stretch of the imagination, but a song that manages to display a range of emotions, thoughts, and feelings as Elkins seems to live this one out in real-time.  Once again, I’m digging on the way that the background vocals complement the lead, I love all the guitars I hear, and I think the piano melody really keeps this track on a steady path as it plays – and I admire that steadiness you’ll hear, no matter where it comes from…musically, track-after-track, Tabitha reveals she can bring a genuine tightness to the instrumentation.  As for the vocals, the results are scattered and varied throughout the record…and just like here on “Over You” it can be somewhat frustrating at times, because you can hear that the talent & skills are there, but that maybe when it comes to this one aspect of Tabitha’s music, she’s either rushing the process, or not quite fully 100% sure of each and every move she’s going to make when it comes time to push record.  As a result, it seems like we experience a lot of organic, uniquely expressive, on-the-spot decisions being made, which might actually be costing her some of the potential confidence and tone she’s seeking to match the spirit of the song at the same time.  Like you’ll hear on “Over You,” she’ll hit the mark perfectly several times along the way – and at a few points, wander off from that same focus she applies to all aspects of the instrumentation…& like I mentioned earlier, I’m greedy – I want both, because I know she’s capable.

Like say, on “Only For A Day” – I think she nails this one really well.  Somewhere in between an R.E.M. like quaintness to the melody and the distance you’d find in something like Mazzy Star, you’ll find Tabitha delivering on the best of what you’d imagine fits in between those comparisons.  “Only For A Day” has an excellent hybrid sound & all-inclusiveness to it…like I could totally accept people out there drawing comparisons to everything from Led Zeppelin to Duran Duran to The Breeders for what she’s created here, and I’d feel like it was all justified commentary.  It’s artistic, it’s creative, it’s expressive and it’s unique…it might be a mid-tempo tune and not really what you’d probably put out there as a single, but I feel like “Only For A Day” was a noticeable highlight where everything came together in Tabitha’s favor here strongly.  Love the way the instrumentation continues to creep into this tune and the way it eventually takes the reins to switch up the vibe just past the two-minute mark and really let some of those incredible guitar tones take a deserved moment in the spotlight all the way to the end.

Great interaction between the bass and guitars on “Walls In Our Hearts” – and lyrically, one of the cuts on this record most built for the right here & now.  Tabitha makes a whole bunch of insightful and accurate points here, not overtly making this a political statement, but that could certainly be applied to much of what she’s singing about on this song.  For what it’s worth, I think she’s on the right side of the thinking & perception of the world here…I can relate to the sentiment and ambition on display.  Rather than walls, we want bridges…bring the people together rather than divide us…these are admirable topics to sing about and Tabitha’s doing that at a very important time in history to stand up & speak out.  As far as the results are concerned, “Walls In Our Hearts” is a bit hit & miss for me in terms of the final execution on this idea…there are times where you can feel that necessary spark & energy dissipate into the atmosphere just a bit too far to keep us feelin’ it when it drops off, but there are noticeable moments where you can hear Tabitha embrace the ambitions & intent of this tune and summon the strength she’s looking for.  Much like I felt towards “Hung Up On You” earlier – “Walls In Our Hearts” has hooks that will stick with you, one way or the other…so like I said, there’s always something there in that circumstance.  For me, the lead guitar, bass, lyrics…these were all highly impressive aspects of this track and what kept me personally engaged…I also really dig the final burst of background vocals a lot too.

Love + Death continues to spread awareness and a message through the lullaby-esque sway & sound of “Prayer For Our Planet.”  Some songs make an attempt to be ambiguous, some don’t – and this is the latter of those two scenarios – Tabitha’s being just about as direct as it gets with her words on “Prayer For Our Planet.”  I think she’s done a great job of creating a highly interesting tune to go along with those words of hers as well when it comes to “Prayer For Our Planet” – it’s yet another direction for Tabitha’s music…or make that, multiple directions I suppose – there’s a significant shift in the middle of this tune that’ll take it into a completely different sound & style altogether.  And talk about charming!  For every bit as expressive and colorful as the beginning half of “Prayer For Our Planet” truly is, there’s an equally cool amount of controlled & subtle, soul-soothing sound to be found in its second part.  I love the realistic, grounded, and down to earth point of view that comes along with such a floaty/dreamy vibe…very clever contrast in the beginning of “Prayer For Our Planet” – and while I can’t necessarily guarantee that everyone out there will feel quite as attached as I am to the low-key chill that follows in the second-half of this song, I can only hope!  I think it’s the unsung hero-ingredient of what makes “Prayer For Our Planet” a fully cohesive idea…almost like we drift into the aftermath of part 1 in part 2.

By the time you get to “Bring On The Night” and the dark & deadly vibes that haunt the guitars, vocals, and atmosphere of this track on Love + Death, we have certainly experienced quite a range of styles & sounds from Elkins once again, haven’t we?  Expression reigns supreme on “Bring On The Night” – she puts in a fully dramatic, emotionally powerful, and unique melody into the microphone & music on this song…decidedly a more ‘serious’ sound from Tabitha’s catalog, but a welcome shift in direction once again.  I enjoy hearing her tackle so many different kinds of styles of music personally…like I mentioned at the very beginning, the results aside – I just appreciate the fact that she’s such a free & willing spirit.  She’ll put in a confident performance into her vocals on this track, and she’ll really light up the final half with a whole bunch of electrifying and soulful musicianship in the mix for ya.  I like how “Bring On The Night” puts you on the edge of your seat quickly with the searing guitar notes in the music adding such a vibrant sound to the gentle acoustic atmosphere surrounding Tabitha…she’s making an artistic reach here by diving into the depths of such a heavy-weighted set of sounds and emotions – but it’s a stretch that carries her into a real thought-provoking set of lyrics and vibe you’ll feel cling to your bones.

Objectively, from the outside, these songs are mixed with the vocals being the main star of the show – and I’m not so entirely sure that’s the main asset of Tabitha’s music just yet.  I think with the right coaching, she could be full-on extraordinary…right now, her own instincts are still leading her to brilliant highlights and the occasional unsure choice along the way…and we want the bold, confident Tabitha, no matter how gentle the song, every time.  Musically, she’s continually all-aces – listen to the solo on “No Reply” and the way the guitar meshes so perfectly with the piano & beat…it’s not just a highlight of this song, but on the entire record.  Lyrically, she’s pretty much always got it locked down tight and delivers something really worthwhile…she’s got a perspective and an artistic way of expressing it, quite often poetically, like you’ll find here on “No Reply.”  We all have our strengths – and Tabitha’s actually stocked full of them as both a writer and performer – seeking out an assist from someone out there might just be the final piece of the puzzle she needs to guide these songs from good to great…because they can get there and she has that potential, 100%.  Once she finds that consistency she’s seeking out – she could be a verifiable force to be reckoned with on a massive scale…like listen to the notes she hits so exceptionally well around the 2:05 mark – that’s a huge highlight for Elkins right there is what that is.  And it’s also confirmation that, everything we’re looking to get from her vocals as listeners, is completely there – it’s just like a level in a game that needs to be unlocked to capture the full potential & benefits it can bring to the overall mission she’s on here…but I’m more than confident it can be done.

I always admire when an artist will raise their voice at the right time and use their platform for the greater good – and you get a lot of that through Tabitha’s music, especially on tracks like “Walls In Our Hearts,” “Prayer For Our Planet,” and later on with “Final War” as well.  Listen to what she’s wishing for this Christmas in the worlds of “Final War” – and recognize, that’s probably the exact same thing on your wish list, mine, and everyone else out there as well…it’s essentially a request for the peace we all deserve.  An end to wars…an end to killing ourselves and the planet we live on…the end of international and internal conflicts…and end to the BS that prevents all of us from fully enjoying our daily lives on this planet – these are all kinds of things pondered over throughout “Final War” as Tabitha sings it.  Personally, I think it’s one of the tighter tracks on the record – it might not be as shiny as some of the others by comparison, but the energy, approach, and tone are all in-line and serve the song really well overall here.  I think these words call for a more…not necessarily lethargic energy, but a zombie-esque mindless-march following-orders kind of cadence to it all, which is exactly what Elkins brings to this tune perfectly…it’s got a hollowness and emptiness to it – but so too does the concept behind the song – I think she found an exceptional match between the meaning & music here that stands out strongly.

I felt like she gives a great performance on “Where The Cold Winds Blow” and gets a haunting vibe flowing throughout the Blues/Soul/Gospel-tinged sound of this second-to-last cut on Love + Death.  That being said…my gut still tells me there’s more to be explored when it comes to her vocals…and considering how willing to experiment she is with sound & style, you’d have to imagine this next phase is going to come one day.  Because I’m again curious as to what a grittier sound might have brought to the dusty tumbleweed-blowin’ style of the music on this song…I can appreciate that she sings this one with exceptional tone, beauty, and grace, in what’s essentially a much more controlled & focused performance from Elkins on the mic overall here…but yeah…some whispers in the background, a layer or two with a distorted or mysterious vocal sound might add a whole ton to an idea like this.  As it stands right now, I still think that “Where The Cold Winds Blow” is one of the stronger songs on Love + Death from start to finish…this is just me encouraging Tabitha to continue to explore the different ways she can potentially enhance her music & the experience in the future to come…she’s still got lots of room to grow for sure, which I would hope we all want when it comes to our art.  The important thing is the desire to keep at it & keep going, which Tabitha is clearly 100% stocked full of…the passion is there.

“Blow, North Wind, Blow” finishes the sixteen-song experience on vibrant sound and melody that contains great rhythm & groove, with another solid performance from Tabitha to end Love + Death on a confident & cool final tune.  Love the way the guitar chimes in on this track to surround the verses and displays such personality & character in the way it’s played…love the way that Elkins really gets right into the moment and locks perfectly into the vibe of this last song as well – she really does end this on a series of strong tones and spectacularly soulful notes, so give her the credit she deserves for bringing this one home good’n’proper!  The final fifty-seconds or so switches gears entirely as we quickly exit out of the main idea of “Blow, North Wind, Blow” and into one last message that Tabitha’s looking to communicate, which ultimately reveals the most altruistic of her intentions and why she does what she does in making her music.  So pay attention!  Her creativity and passion have earned that from you at the very least…she’s sincerely out there to create unique tunes that give your ears an alternative from the established-norms out there, and she’s definitely pulled that off with the diversity of Love + Death.

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