By Jesse Roper
Reviewed by Emmett Robinson Smith
Jesse Roper can shred. That much was obvious to me while listening to Red Bird, the Metchosin-raised musician’s new album, which encompasses an array of music styles, from blues-rock to reggae to pop-flavoured tracks, all of which showcase Roper’s impressive guitar skills. Red Bird is Roper’s first official solo venture, after releasing two previous albums with The Roper Show, a band he fronted at festivals across the Island since 2012. Roper has been enjoying solo success. A recent show at Sugar Nightclub in Victoria sold out, and he just returned from gigs in the United States. But while his album’s 12 tracks have conviction, in the end, I felt their lack of originality hurt.
The opening track, which shares the album’s title, is a high-energy blues-rock romper that features Roper’s considerable guitar chops. It’s based off a fast chromatic riff that penetrates the majority of the song as Roper delivers rudimentary lines such as, “Yeah, this is Red Bird a-comin’ / I think I’ve been hit / I’m losin’ all control and I think that this is it.” It sets the tone for the next batch of songs, which follows a similar familiar blues-rock sound.
“The Hurricane’s Eye” is both the album’s lead single and its best song. It’s a mid-tempo barn-burner reminiscent of the White Stripes classic “Catch Hell Blues.” “Hurricane” starts off with melodically plucked guitar, and soon builds into a harmonica-tinged, head-banger riff. Roper’s lyrics lend a hand to this badass groove: “I woke this mornin’ in the hurricane’s eye,” he belts.
Reggae-influenced slow-burner “Quality Time” makes for a refreshing change of pace. But it is a prime example of what ultimately fails Red Bird: the song works, but could have been composed and performed by almost any other musician. There’s nothing to separate this song–with its predictable chord progressions and instrumentation–from the myriad others of this style. Roper performs a tasteful, skillful guitar solo between verses, but it’s not enough to save it from tepidness.
The assorted nature of the album is furthered with the peppy, poppy “Hideaway.” Roper’s Eddie Vedder-esque melody line is complemented by an infectious rhythm-guitar-and-drum pattern. It’s one of the more easy-listening songs on the album. Roper delivers pastoral imagery of watching the sun drifting away. Again, however, comes across as conventional.
The pacing of Red Bird is confounding at times. Given that the first four songs have a blues-rock style, one expects the rest of the album to follow the trend. The reggae influence of “Quality Time” seems random in the context of the album, especially given that “The Hurricane’s Eye,” the following track, returns to the soundscape introduced in the album’s opening songs. “Hideaway” marks the beginning of the final portion of the album, which more or less continues its pop-leaning sound rather than the blues style introduced at the start of the album. Red Bird would benefit from a reorganization of tracks.
Ultimately, however, I thought Red Bird lacked originality and a sense of musical exploration. The album is comfortable in its own safeness, and it’s a shame that Roper’s notable guitar skills aren’t put to more exciting use. Familiarity can be an asset, but Roper’s latest effort does not make a case for it.
Emmett Robinson Smith is a music journalist and classical pianist at UVic.