Taking a listen

by Ryan Snyder

Taking a listen

DR Universal Universally Yours

Remember way back when hip-hop music was just as concerned with substance as it was with style? DR Universal ( tg29) does and his debut album Universally Yours gives listeners a solid sampling of what this Greensboro-via-Buffalo rapper is capable. The album kicks off with “Next Up,” which loops a sleepy ’50s doo-wop riff with DR’s unwavering vocal delivery. The track’s chorus “Ask yourself who’s the next up-and-comer/ Workin’ hard like runnin’ steps in the summer” stand out as the best characterization of DR’s approach to songwriting for the entire album. “D. Original” continues the theme of his quest for self-improvement, this time with an up-tempo funk guitar hook and thumping bass beat. “Razor Cleats” features guest vocalist Contrast and plays like a theme song to an NFL all-time highlight reel, with nods to greats Earl Campbell and Dan Marino. The signature track of Universally Yours is undoubtedly the feel-good “I Remember When,” a slick meditation on the Golden Era of hip hop and the events in his life that accompanied it. The album gets a club-friendly makeover, starting with contributions by DJ Ice on “We Rep,” before taking a turn to a moodier, Scarface-esque tone on “U Can Have It” and “Savage Doctor.” The lighthearted yet serious nature that marked the first half of the album returns on “DR Iz,” which is really a bonus track containing a hidden track. If you can wrap your mind around that. The only knock against the album is that it is thematically repetitive, as DR goes to the superior-to-allother-rappers well one too many times. Considering how many other MCs have made a career on that narrative, I’ll give him a pass for a very solid debut effort.

The New Familiars The Storm

It’s amazing to see the proliferation of new roots artists finding success under the progressive bluegrass banner, considering how very little radio play the genre receives in critical markets, in favor of contemporary country. But with the explosion of artists such as Yonder Mountain String Band and the Avett Brothers on the national scene, it appears that quality songwriting and musicianship will always find a way. Seemingly the next to break through into mainstream popularity, the New Familiars are taking that very formula and running with it on their latest EP The Storm. The album’s gritty take on classic bluegrass themes and arrangements further cements their reputation as young pioneers in a genre that continues to validate itself. The band borrows the best of Appalachian roots, blues, gospel harmonies and punk into rolling, swirling stories about love, heartbreak and everyday struggles. Josh Daniel’s resonator guitar rings like a diesel engine on a far-away road, while his bandmates pick furiously on the opening track, “Annalein,” all the way through the title track, “The Storm.” The album finishes on a quiet note with “Tongue Tied,” a number that lets the listeners down gently and contrasts the twangy indignation of the rest of the album quite well. The New Familiars have latched onto a new dimension of a sound often criticized as being one-sided and The Storm is an intense, and oftentimes harrowing, trip into the shape of bluegrass to come.

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