Sometimes Solid Is Perfect
There’s something to be said for a good album. Far too often the world scrambles for the genre smashing, envelope shredding record of the moment, leaving hundreds of solid efforts scattered along the gutters on the road to glory. On his most recent effort, Sxip Shirey creates a wonderful and whimsical album that is right from the first to final note, an achievement that is even more impressive when one takes its hour-plus runtime into account.
The album starts off in a rather predictable manner (well, as predictable as one could expect an experimental album to be), toying with thrumming synths that call to mind the titular handful of bees. However, the second song is where the album truly kicks off. The opening buzzes are reminiscent of mid-2000’s electronica, while the funky bass line and horn section immediately evoke comparisons to Moon Hooch, a theme that becomes only more prevalent as Red Penny continues to dive deeper into the bowels of experimental funk music. This is not to label it as a rip-off, as the track is clearly its own master, creating an engaging groove that will cause any listener to bob their head.
One of the most notable features of the album is its wealth of guest features, ranging from Rhiannon Giddens on her stunning cover of “Man of Constant Sorrows” to Xavier on the standout track “Cinnamon Stick.” These features are incredible additions to the album; none of them feel shoehorned or forced into place, but all are effortlessly slid into the album and serve as pieces to a larger puzzle instead of detracting or simply being there. Perhaps most interestingly, the features serve to add a level of consistency to the album rather than confusion or fluctuation, a feat rarely accomplished in even the most polished of albums.
Shirey has more than set the bar for experimental folk albums this year with A Bottle Full of Whiskey and a Handful of Bees. The sheer scope and solidity of the record is something most musicians can only aspire to achieve. This is the cornerstone of music. These solid records – beautiful from front to back, whilst also maintaining a strong sense of self and intrigue – build the music industry to the heights it has come to reach. It would be a shame and a travesty for anyone to leave this album by the roadside.