Friday, January 27, 2017

Review of Bess Rogers' "Travel Back"

I posted this review earlier tonight on the Sputnik Music website. I based a lot of it on a review of a live performance by Lelia Broussard and Bess Rogers that I wrote in 2009 which was published in Aural Fix.

I first met Bess Rogers in a small Long Island coffee shop where I used to go for live music. Rogers was a teenager at the time, and sometimes after whoever was playing that night would finish their show, she would noodle around on the guitar as things wound down. Eventually, she worked up the courage to book her own show, and played it on an unamplified acoustic guitar so that we all had to sit really close in order to hear her. 

Over the next few years, I'd see her name here and there advertised for shows by different acoustic venues in different parts of the Island. She put out a couple of EPs that I got my hands on, and sometimes I'd give her some airplay on a show I did on a local community radio station. Then in 2007, she put out a full-length album called Decisions Based on Information, and I was blown away by the growth that I heard. I started giving her more frequent airplay, and her CD came close to making my Top 10 Local Albums of the Year list for that year.

Eventually, Rogers moved to Brooklyn (along with many quality Long Island artists) and in 2009, she released a 6-song EP called Travel Back. Once again I was amazed to hear how much further she'd come as both a singer and a songwriter. Shortly thereafter, I caught her on TV as part of Ingrid Michaelson's band performing in the Live from the Artist's Den series, and I realized she'd been getting some great experience out on the road, both as an original artist and as a regular member of Michaelson's band. And while I was and still am an admirer of Michaelson, in some ways, I feel like Rogers' recorded work has been surpassing hers since the release of this EP.

All six songs on Travel Back are really good. The style falls somewhere in the indie rock/indie pop range, with some nice vocal harmonies sprinkled throughout. The album is smartly produced, especially for an independent release.

The standout is the title track, "Travel Back". It's an upbeat, toe-tapping number that makes excellent use of ukulele and features a peppy vo-do-de-o vocal style where certain words are stretched to an extra syllable or two (e.g. "you" becomes "You-oo"). And although it's a love-gone-wrong song, the chorus is so damned catchy it's impossible not to smile, as the singer declares "Even if I could travel back, travel back, travel back/With all the knowledge that I have/I would still be falling for you." The song is so good, I'm surprised that some better known artist with a bigger publicity machine hasn't covered it and turned it into a hit single.

Another song I really like is "Yellow Bird". This is a slow, gentle acoustic number that offers the most beautiful vocal harmonies on the album. Musically, there's nothing particularly innovative about this one, but it's so pretty that I don't care.

Over the last few years, in addition to her solo career, Rogers has participated in a number of side projects, including the electronic bands The Age of Rockets and The Robot Explosion, and the electric/acoustic band The Secret Someones. She also had a song selected for an ad campaign for Cheerios in 2013. Travel Back, however, was the first release where she really started fully showing her musical chops.