Blue Soul Ten – The Beautiful Warrior – Album Review
SO STOKED to have this project back in the mix!
Believe it or not, at one time, the talents of Claye Greene were once hidden behind the scenes. I know, I know, I know…you listen to a record like his previous release as Blue Soul Ten, called The Fearless Warrior, or this new chapter in his audio-saga, The Beautiful Warrior, and you’re thinking…how on earth was it possible that this guy hasn’t stepped into the limelight of chill beats & lounge music years ago?
I’m no mentalist for the record…it’s just easy to know what you’d be thinking when you hear music like this packed with enough groove & rhythm in its soul that we’d all respond to hearing it the exact same way. And also for the record, I don’t know the answer to the question, I’m just glad it happened.
Dat bass tho! That’s the way to get us into the groove! “Beautiful Warrior” starts the record out in a combination of funk, soul, jazz…all the essential ingredients of pure lounge and all the creativity & imagination to spark the genre to life instantly join the mix and Blue Soul Ten is off & running with a fantastic start to the new experience. I dig everything from the jazzy keys to the smart additions of guitar and electro-beat that becomes part of the instrumental – but I’m afraid nothing in the world is going to outshine that bass when it comes to what makes us want to get our own groove-on. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that, every track out there has some sort of feature element to it and “Beautiful Warrior” is no exception to the rule – and besides, when a feature instrument or sound in a track has as much vibrant energy, tone and hook in its rhythm like the bass on “Beautiful Warrior” does, it’s best to let it lead the way to victory, which Blue Soul Ten does right off the drop with the record’s title-cut. The vocal samples that lead-in to the cut were a perfect spring-step for the bass to jump-off from and take over from there…the saxophone that comes in is like the cherry on top…Claye’s got his sound dialed-in & on-point right from the very beginnings of The Beautiful Warrior and continues to impress from there.
According to what you’ll read out there on the ol’ social media pages, Claye’s been collaborating with a ton of artists out there via the internet. I can only imagine being a vocalist working with him and getting a song like “Forever U” in my inbox…that’s a golden set-up for a smooth victory right there is what that is! There’s such a blissful & uplifting vibe that floods the atmosphere of “Forever U” with light-funk & jazz leading the way in what we hear, before the addition of strings coming in to create a bold finish on this second tune. The hooks here are STRONGER than strong…the combination of the smoothness & flow of the vocals perfectly complements the music on “Forever U.” I’m assuming that the main hook of the music is actually played on guitar with either muted-strings and/or an effect to go with it…whatever it is, however he’s done it, Claye has created a seriously killer vibe in the music of “Forever U,” that essentially sets the stage for all the magic that follows from the immaculate vocals to the clever additions to the music that continually change & shape the sound along the way. Bass stands-out yet again in the best of ways, providing rubbery & flexible low-end tones that put real definition & depth into “Forever U.” Love the way the vocals don’t rush into this song, but gradually come in to join in. Not that I’d ever recommend saving a song only for when you need it…you should always love the sound of “Forever U” no matter when you hear it…but keep it in your back pocket as that special kind of cut that you KNOW, beyond any doubt, will snap you out of a bad mood & put you right into a great one.
Bass tones have really made the difference on this record for me so far – there’s so much skill, tone, feel and punch in what we hear, often the driving force in how the music of Blue Soul Ten moves. Even amongst more subtle demands on the instrumentation on a track like “Free Myself,” listen to how much of a significant role they play in the music. Vocals are beautifully expressive and somewhat understated in this track…it’s a great performance, but “Free Myself” also displays an incredible balance through the music and singing – each are equal stars on this captivating stunner. Hooks-wise, probably a more meaty track in terms of a listener’s experience and a bit tougher to sing along with…I think ultimately “Free Myself” is likely a little less accessible compared to a cut like “Forever U” because of that, but there are multiple reasons to believe a song like this holds up longer over time. Each time you listen to “Free Myself,” you’re likely to hear something different or get something different out of it…music can be the gift that keeps on giving that way, and this cut is a great example of that potential in action. Really dig the beat of this song when it comes right down to it…that certainly stands-out…I also really like the timing & placement of the keys in this song, really smart stuff happening in the melody there. Vocally & writing-wise, “Free Myself” is just as strong as a song like “Forever U” in many ways, just more understated in the performance, structure and writing…it might not be the track people notice at first by comparison, but it is one that will keep you coming back time & again to listen to this record.
“Drifting” was one of the real highlights for my ears personally as The Beautiful Warrior continued to play on. Perfectly-titled tune, you can really let your whole soul slide right into this subtle groove…and soon enough, you’ll be lost in the brilliance of this stunning combination of sound & atmosphere. This is where Blue Soul Ten proves that this project can entirely hang with some of the best of the best out there like Peace Orchestra or The Thievery Corporation and satisfy the ears just as completely…”Drifting” is a seriously impressive & subtle groove not to be ignored! The keyboard melodies are absolutely amazing, the trumpet that solos throughout the song is equally incredible; and without a single word spoken, sampled or sung, Blue Soul Ten again shows just how captivating & hypnotic an audio experience can be with this awesome instrumental. Back-to-back with the jaw-dropping stunner of “Here I Am” to follow, for me, this was a pocket of absolute strength in the lineup with two songs that couldn’t have possibly come out sounding better in the slightest. Not that I’m complaining about the rest, because I’m definitely not! Blue Soul Ten is relentlessly reliable when it comes to incredible ideas, imaginative sounds and bold textures…we’re all bound to have our favorites on any record; I’m making my case for these two back-to-back as making an immeasurably positive contribution to the early stages of The Beautiful Warrior as it gets ready to start its second half.
Quite often on a record like this, where you can see a majority of the songs are in the 3:30-4:30 range, and there’s only ONE suspicious track that’s under the three-minute mark…I don’t exactly know WHY it’s a thing, but you can pretty much count on that short experience to be one of the album’s most golden. The attention to detail on “Here I Am” is staggering…there is so much uniqueness in the atmosphere of the music and the vocals are otherworldly awesome, sliding every bar they’re on, flowing fluidly like water. I can’t stress enough just how much of an impact that the electro music & acoustic combination on “Here I Am” makes right from the very first seconds…it’s a truly captivating moment in a lineup of songs that all command your attention. “Here I Am” takes it to that next level all the way. Claye is flexing real skill and imagination in the textures of sound that “Here I Am” has – this is pure genius 100% of the way through. The singer reminds me a ton of Esthero at her best moments here…there’s just as much charisma and character on the microphone on “Here I Am” as there is running through the music.
Give it up for “Try” for one of the album’s most hypnotic rhythms! Every time this song came on, I felt like I zoned right out of my world and right into this track…I’m always cool with that, that’s what voicemail is for if anyone needs to get ahold of me. The electro aspect of Blue Soul Ten is wonderfully pronounced in the music here…great structure and evolution in the sound takes it from the beat & harp melody combination to include smart electronic ideas and a low-toned bass rhythm to thicken the atmosphere. I like the vocals a lot…it’s another low-key & understated performance; the more you focus in on it as a listener, the more you hear the amount of style & skill in how she sings this song. The main hooks of the chorus are solid…personally I felt like it was the way the singer sings the verse and the relentless continuum of hypnotic rhythm that kept my interest level up each time I heard it. The hooks of “Try” were almost like a given…not that they were easy to come up with, sing, or play – more-so that they’re designed in such a bulletproof and professional fashion that you’ll be singing along with the chorus before it’s finished its first full run-through.
The only song I felt like I ever questioned in this incredible lineup on The Beautiful Warrior, was a song called “Silly Me.” Not sure if that suggests that Claye knew these comments were coming. There’s truly much to be admired about this song from its deep & darker movements and sound, to the artistic & avant-garde approach to the vocals…and certainly that wicked synthetic bass-line running through the background of the song. All that being said…by comparison to virtually every other song on this record, “Silly Me” seems to break the most rules of the standards set; it feels like it wanders around a little lost in search of its main ideas at times. Whether it’s the loose structure to the vocal-flow or the noodling from the guitars & keys in the music, “Silly Me” didn’t quite feel as focused as the rest. Not necessarily ‘thrown together’ or last-minute in its overall results, but perhaps a little rushed comparatively to the rest; the only questionable notes I found in the vocals occur on “Silly Me” in a few rare moments in the song and even the hooks of the music seemed to never really decide on which direction to pursue. As much as there were flashes of real potential on “Silly Me” and no matter how much I loved the low-end sound of that synth-bass rolling through the mix, guitars drifting in the wind or percussion creeping in, I never did become convinced that this one fit the lineup…decent enough tune to listen to still, just not sure it fit the tone & vibe of The Beautiful Warrior overall.
“Believe” ends up snapping the record back into place, simplifying the pieces involved and focusing intently on movement, structure, and production. Edited in a glitch and light EDM style of sorts, Blue Soul Ten makes a masterful use of the extra space in this artistic electro cut and works a gorgeous clarity into the mix of “Believe.” No different than one of the best chefs out there in a kitchen and how they’ll tell you it’s the ingredients themselves and their natural flavors that are always the main star on an incredible dish; the same kind of theory applies here. Each element of the song comes through shining in the additional space there is on “Believe” and as parts are added & subtracted along the way, you really feel like you get to hear every moment, twist & turn of the ideas on this tune. The twinkling keys sparkle and shine as the vocals weave their own magic throughout this gentle melody…sweet flute sounds join in the mix and the extra-chill on the beat of “Believe” keeps this cut right & tight 100% of the time. The vocals might not be reaching for traditional hooks here…but hopefully your ears are hearing this in the same way that mine are – I love an artistic approach like this when it all comes together so well. It’s not at all about verse/chorus/verse so much as it is about really feeling the vibe and getting the very best from the moment from being right into the material, letting it take hold and letting the natural instincts lead you from there forward, that’s how you get something this cool.
I’m just going to throw this next part out there to all the musicians, bands, and artists that might one day come our way…I don’t really know how to explain it, but adding in rain sounds to your music will give you about, oh I dunno, an extra thirty or forty-percent chance of me loving that particular song? Not sure why it is, I just love hearing that sound, every time…and that’s the way that “Rain Fall” starts on The Beautiful Warrior. The kind of switch so perfectly timed from the exit from “Believe” that when “Rain Fall” first begins you’ll wonder if it’s the next song or if the weather outside has suddenly changed. Exceptional mix to this entire tune…I love the space and distance between elements in this song and how much definition & clarity it gives every moment. The muted trumpets way off in the distance, almost like you’ve got your windows open and this is the sound that floated through from across town – they sound amazing. The electro elements and main keyboard melodies are spot-on, pensive and insightfully-chill, setting up a perfect vibe for some of the best vocal moments on The Beautiful Warrior. The song springs into renewed energy around the two & a half-minute mark and finds excellent ways of keeping us sincerely invested in listening from beginning to end – loved every second of this tune.
The gentle beat and keyboard melody of Blue Soul Ten’s last listed cut on the album, “Blue Theme III” holds the fort down perfectly, allowing the guitars to take a real moment to shine throughout this song. Sparkling and intricately-played, there are great moments where it takes the lead in the song and equal highlights when it backs-off into a supporting role to let the music come alive around it. Right around the 2:45-mark when the piano melody becomes the most pronounced and present in “Blue Theme III” – you kind of can’t really help but truly fall in love with this last subtle rhythm & groove of the record. A warm & inviting sound dominates the sweetness of this gentle ending to The Beautiful Warrior, leaving you with a satisfying final song that absolutely BEGS YOUR EARS to repeat the experience again immediately…you know…in as gentle, tender, & sincere of an approach as you’d expect from Blue Soul Ten’s soul-soothing vibes. Smoother-than-smooth ending to the record.
But hang on just a second…what’s THIS?
If you remember those shiny round disc things that once carried music to our speakers…those CD-thingies…if you’re still familiar with the physical form of music, you’ll appreciate the final cut that The Beautiful Warrior has, which is actually a…*SPOILER ALERT…hidden track on the record. Old school! I love that! “Free Myself” makes an extra appearance on the album with a ‘Greenhouse Remix’ after several moments of silence in between the last track ending and this one beginning. I used to get right into this kind of stuff…there were so many different approaches that could be taken to this move…you could let the track play as one long song, you could add a couple tracks of short silence in between…or perhaps the best examples were records like Cracker’s Kerosene Hat and Nine Inch Nails’ Wish EP that programmed in the entire 99 individual songs-worth of space on a CD with mini-tracks that varied in length of pure silence before finally revealing a few more bonus tracks before the end. Just sayin’ – I’ve got respect for the move! It’s a different world now for sure…but those that were there, know the pure bliss of thinking an album was over, only to discover that there was still indeed, more music to be had. Going back to those two references I just cited, incidentally if you MISSED those bonus cuts on Kerosene Hat or Wish, you missed out on some of both records best songs. Nothing ever beat a half hour of silence after a great album ended and finding more tunes at the end – nothing…that was always the ultimate gift. Was it just me or did it always feel like it was another way for an artist or band to say ‘thank-you for listening?’ – it always felt like an extra track was a bonus for the real fans that listened. I like what the ‘Greenhouse Remix’ brings to “Free Myself” and definitely felt like it was a version with real merit. This particular variation allows itself to rely much more upon a spacious musical atmosphere and lets the vocals come through more, almost showing us just how much they’ve helped carry this song all along in its original version earlier on. It moves with sleek style and low-tones, bringing an audible chill to the sound of “Free Myself” – I seemed to have no problem welcoming this song back for another round at the end of The Beautiful Warrior each time because the ‘Greenhouse Remix’ really brought out a different vibe in it to make that second listening experience a unique & worthwhile one to enjoy.
Find out more about Blue Soul Ten at the official homepage here: http://www.greenehousemusic.com/