Jun 16, 2022
By Mark Moody
Raised primarily in rural Oklahoma, the farm to table allusion of Bartees Strange’s sophomore album is quite clear. But the question that comes quickly to mind is why Strange needs a seat at the proverbial table if all he’s going to do is kick it aside and jump up in the middle of the damn banquet and sing his songs. Once again Strange makes references to nights spent performing at New York’s Beacon Theatre (“Cosigns”), but Farm to Table’s tightest tracks are more custom made for headlining nearby Madison Square Garden. If you can’t envision a guitar tech running to Strange’s side under dimmed stage lights after the hard cut at the end of album highlight “Wretched,” Strange’s goals may not be clear to you.
His 2020-released debut, Live Forever, may have had glimpses of live set barnburners in “Mustang” and “Boomer,” but Farm to Table’s numerous peaks are arena ready. Early single “Heavy Heart” has already set the hype engine ablaze during opening sets for artists ranging from Car Seat Headrest to Courtney Barnett, but songs like “Wretched” and “Black Gold” are engineered to test the foundational soundness of wherever Strange might be playing in the future. “Wretched” shifts effortlessly from a mid-tempo The 1975-inspired ballad to hard charging passages that guarantee full audience pogoing as certainly as Pavlov’s bell makes a hound dog drool. While “Black Gold” is all heart and finds Strange singing in a confident falsetto on par with Justin Vernon’s. “Black Gold,” in fact, would have slotted in well on the last Big Red Machine project and upped its cachet immensely.
Speaking of Vernon and Barnett, Strange name checks them along with two-thirds of boygenius (Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers) on the dreamy hip-hop of the tongue-in-cheek “Cosigns.” The song also jokingly has Strange reminding the labels where to send his missing checks. While the ultra-chill, gospel sing-a-long of album closer “Hennessy” contains the stereotype busting line, “they say Black folks drink Hennessy.” But Strange proves on Farm to Table that in refusing to sit still long enough to be pigeonholed, he’s looking to heft a glass of something sweeter than what’s historically been on offer. Farm to Table should have Strange flying higher than its Hieronymus Bosch by way of Oklahoma inspired cover art, that’s adorned with an airborne buffalo, UFOs, and Jesus himself. (www.barteesstrange.com)
Author rating: 8/10
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