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Lady Blue

Duke University

Dust & Devils (2016)

3.7

December 14, 2016

Tuning / Blend 3.7
Energy / Intensity 3.7
Innovation / Creativity 3.0
Soloists 3.7
Sound / Production 3.7
Repeat Listenability 3.3
Tracks
1 Chasing Twisters 3.7
2 Creep 3.3
3 Never Be 3.7
4 Devil's Backbone 4.0
5 My Heart With You 3.7

Recorded 2014 – 2015
Total time: 15:45, 5 songs


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 2
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Chasing Twisters 3
2 Creep 3
3 Never Be 3
4 Devil's Backbone 3
5 My Heart With You 3

Having a release that's only fifteen minutes long means there's no space for anything but high strides at excellence; there should be a real urgency to hook your listeners to leave them wanting more. Though the voices in Lady Blue sound lovely and the concept art and musical tie-ins set a clear presentation theme, Dust & Devils gives us tame, restrained music, often so void of urgency and upward momentum it can settle into lethargy. 

Several reviewers for Lady Blue's last album, Ultraviolet, discussed a need for a more unified vision and identity. Check that off the list, because Dust & Devils is nicely wrapped with songs that complement one another and have crossing themes for the album's messaging. I feel like I get this particular iteration of Lady Blue, but this ensemble did not put enough into bringing the backgrounds to life, into creating tension and dynamics and genuine musical moments to make their songs bold and spellbinding.

Chasing Twisters has captivating lyrics and a rustic folksy drive, but very polite, gentle singing. Creep sounds neat as a female-led ballad, one that could have been successfully intoxicating and edgy, or more full and lush, but fails to get us hooked because it never reaches the climax the original notes and chords work toward. Never Be trips up a lot with clunky "j"-based syllables and the need for more dramatic dynamics. Devil's Backbone captures our interest with its opening lead who is raw and exposed, but again never offers up the intensity to grab us and keep us close. Finally, poignant My Heart With You gets droopy with its ever-present quietness and refusal to push and pull the tempo and volume, and it has too many distractions with lots of individual breaths and lip smacks (a danger of singing very quietly without keen attention to unified entrances and cut-offs). The source material and concept for Dust & Devils is pretty good; the weaker ensemble work is not.

Still, recording and producing five tracks is better than skipping over the years with nothing. These songs surely make a fine keepsake for Lady Blue, and my hope is to hear more power, joyful noise, and risks the next go-around.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Chasing Twisters 4
2 Creep 3
3 Never Be 4
4 Devil's Backbone 5
5 My Heart With You 4

The last recording RARB heard from Duke's Lady Blue was the group's 2013 album Ultraviolet, which I found too choral and sweet for the group's choice of songs. But the group's latest recording, the Dust & Devils EP, marks a huge step forward for the group: these ladies absolutely belt at the appropriate moments, and they've adapted their sound to match their gritty, impassioned song selection.

The EP is paced well, with an ear-grabbing first track moving into an eerie ballad, followed by two energetic tunes, and then an ensemble piece (My Heart With You) that's a nod to the group's choral sound of yesteryear. Oddly, that's the song that fits least well with the group's current sound — and could probably use more dramatic dynamics overall — but it's still a lovely way to close out the EP.

Overall, the most compelling track here is Devil's Backbone, which melds the group's beautiful blend into long arcing phrases that swell with haunting dynamics. Olaotan Awoyomi's lead sounds stunning here, really hammering home the song's story and adding to the song's memorable tone.

The rest of the EP is solid. Both Chasing Twisters and Never Be have the driving energy that Ultraviolet was lacking — the group has really found a way to let out a gritty wail and still sound pretty (but not too sweetly so). I want to hear a fuller sound at times; there are times when the lower altos aren't as pronounced as I want — but overall Dust & Devils is a wonderful progression for the group. Lady Blue's ability to adapt its sound to fit the passionate, rocking songs here makes all the difference between a recording I'll return to and one I won't.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Chasing Twisters 4
2 Creep 4
3 Never Be 4
4 Devil's Backbone 4
5 My Heart With You 4

Dust & Devils is a lovely little EP, with five tracks that really drive a story. This means that as a listener, I never feel that my time is being wasted listening to this music. More collegiate groups should make decisions that lead to concise, good albums.

The EP opens with Chasing Twisters (originally a Delta Rae tune), where Eleanor Mehlenbacher's driving arrangement really showcases the strengths of Lady Blue. Sharp, punctuating vocal percussion keeps the energy of the track leaning forward. I particularly enjoy the shifts in background parts from the sustained "oh"s contrasted with reflections of the lyrics as the track progresses. This choice helps the solo rise out of the background incredibly well.

"No one needs another cover of Creep" is something I think to myself often, but even so, Lady Blue's track is certainly good. It does not change any basic interpretation of the song, but that's not necessarily bad. Though this wouldn't build an audience, I can see how it would excite an existing audience.

Dust & Devils closes with a homophonic arrangement of My Heart With You which reminds me of the years of homophonic And So it Goes arrangements that appear on seemingly every a cappella album in the late 1990s. And that's not bad! It's a beautiful closer, and Brooke Kim's arrangement feels unifying. I'm not sure who made the decision to leave in the audible breaths before phrases, but it reminds me of the humanity of the women behind the microphones — a good thing way to end.

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