Release Date: June 30, 2017
American Opera is the musical meandering of singer/songwriter John Bee. Small Victories is his/their/its debut.
Small Victories is a pretty refreshing album to be quite honest. So much of the singer/songwriter genre is either slow and whiny or just barebone representations of what could be great songs with some production and some more instrumentation. Bee avoids all the clichés by offering up a great slab of fully realized songs with thoughtful lyrics. The songs are acoustic-based but they feature a full band sound and some spectacular horn work that quickly separates him from the pack.
There are a number of cool moments here but, for me, none more so than the title track. It’s got a great bar swagger and Bee’s voice is surprisingly both gravely and aggressive- something not too many singer/songwriters have. His passionate vocal delivery is peppered with horns and colorful expletives and it hits me in all the right spots. You get used to his voice as the album goes on, but those initial moments take you aback.
“Monsters Among Men” is another standout moment for me. It’s got a midtempo drive that has a bit of a darker feel to it that is perfectly complimented by a contemplative, and gentle, vocal and a catchy as hell chorus. It’s a bit jangly in the most impressive way. The acapella “Dear Devil” brings some variety to the album, I just wish it were longer. Still though, it leads perfectly into the more traditional singer/songwriter fare of “Empty Cup.” Female vocalist Meeko makes a guest appearance duetting on “Sidewalks.” It’s another more traditional moment with picked guitars and reserved harmonica, but the duet nature makes it impossible not to enjoy. The two voices play perfectly together and the big “Whoas” towards the end of the song give it a really anthemic feel.
While it definitely has a more authentic flare, it’s not a stretch to think that if you enjoy bands like The Lumineers, Needtobreathe’s more recent work, or Mumford & Sons then you’ll find a lot to enjoy about Small Victories. There is something both familiar and refreshing about American Opera and I look forward to hearing more.
Reviewed by mark1340