Artist: Kris Roche
Title: Be Love
License: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0
Release Date: 17/04/2013
[Note: Review retracted. Release has been removed from Jamendo and is now only available as non-Creative Commons Release. This page remains only as a historical artifact.]
Kris Roche came to my attention a few years back on Jamendo by way of the “you might also like” sidebar. Normally I don’t follow those things because they use categorizations I frequently have issues with and tend to rely on popularity, which I don’t believe in (in fact many times popularity is a negative influence for me). But in this case I was pleased to hear Kris’ s work. He sounded like an Asian Jack Johnson, something that’s not really my style, but beyond that I could hear passion in his music. It was obvious that this was what Kris not only wanted to do, but it is part of him. The man and his music are inseparable. And that made Kris one of my favorite finds in quite sometime: the combination of talent & passion goes a long way in my book. If there was one song that really grabbed my attention it was Living In The Midst from Anything But Alone. The “rap” style bridge with a combination of light, self-deprecating humor and quirky insight was a fun listen that made me laugh. The most memorable line from that song is: And now you know a little something about me / I’m a little off-center but I think that’s the key. Which brings me to Kris’s new release Be Love. It’s been several years between releases for Kris, and apparently a lot has changed in his life according to the title track: he’s back in Japan, has traveled and learned a lot and had “years full of tears, and hurtin’ for cash”. But, these experiences aren’t negative for him, instead they have informed both his world view and personal perspective. One of the changes that shines on this release is the Motown and Philly style hooks and vocal harmonies. Nearly every song on this release is full of them, from the opening 30 Day Trial to Heaven Bound. But, unlike other artists that pay homage to a style or genre of music, Kris works these elements into songs with his own style. Take the example of Heavy Heart, which is decidedly reggae-pop in style, but integrates Motown style harmonies to emphasize specific elements of the music and lyrics of the song. On Kimino Okage he does something that he hasn’t done on previous releases: mixing Japanese chorus with verses in English. Fans of Kris’s previous releases have wanted him to work in more Japanese in his songs, and this is a wonderful example of the result. (And, surprisingly, I would characterize the harmony vocals on this track more in the vein of Ben Folds.) If there is one thing to criticize about this release is the choice in writing more down-tempo and ballad oriented songs than Anything But Alone, although not quite a return to the acoustic melancholy of Tails of Bufflebear, but close. Only two tracks on this release: 30 Day Trial and Astronaut come close to the pop-style of Anything But Alone. And that’s a bit of a bummer for me. I really enjoyed the new vocal harmonies on this release. I think Kris’s song writing is as strong as either of his previous releases. His lyrics are maturing and moving in nice directions. However, I was looking for a bit more balance on this release: a mix of up tempo pop music with his more reggae / acoustic pop style. I do hope future releases have more up-tempo material (Kris is excellent when he grooves on more up tempo material), but this imbalance is no reason to skip this release. Everything else that Kris puts into his releases is high quality from beginning to end: the song writing, the arrangements and performances, the recording and engineering are all first class. You will be hard pressed to find better. Kris is the type of singer / song writer I like: well worth the listen, and well worth supporting. He doesn’t disappoint. Over 1 million listens to Astronaut landed him in Jamendo’s Top 30 most popular tracks. And given that I tend to ignore popularity, that is saying something.