Washington, D.C. singer/songwriter Bartees Strange made a strong impression with Live Forever, his eclectic 2020 debut. Unlike many genre-hopping artists, his amalgam of indie rock, folk, hip-hop, and jazz comes across as a natural extension of his personality rather than a showy display of tastes. Growing up in a transient military family, he lived in England, Greenland, and parts of the U.S. before landing in Mustang, Oklahoma where he spent his formative years singing in opera camps, playing football, and generally following his instincts from one endeavor to the next. Relocating to the capital as an adult Strange issued an EP of National covers and his rangy all-original debut album which put him resolutely on the map, setting high expectations for his follow-up. His first release for the much larger 4AD label, 2022's Farm to Table is another stylistically varied set with enough heart and soul to support its peculiar construction. The album's autobiographical title is a nod to Strange's personal journey from being the only Black kid in a rural community to having a seat at the table alongside indie luminaries like Phoebe Bridgers and Justin Vernon, both of whom he names in the quirky rap track "Cosigns." More affecting, though, are melodic gems like the rousing alt-rock of "Heavy Heart" and the soothing folk-soul of "Black Gold," two standouts that draw more attention to his heartfelt songwriting than his tendency to mix genres. Strange veers into social commentary on the poignant "Hold the Line," a song written for Gianna Floyd, daughter of George Floyd, who was just six years old when she was interviewed live just after her father's brutal murder was captured on video. It's a gorgeous, deftly executed song that reveals a songwriter as adept at translating public narratives as he is his own story. Strange is a rare talent with a multi-tooled approach that encompasses thoughtful songwriting, surprising arrangements, and a sonically layered production aesthetic that feels both original and understated.
Farm to Table Review
by Timothy Monger