By Brian Tucker
Ben Mabry and Brent Holloman compliment one another well as singer and guitar player in Beta Radio. Both play numerous instruments and craft music that’s more akin to humble tapestries and wide, textured vistas than consistent, catchy Americana songs.
On Colony of Bees, their follow up to Seven Sisters, the duo has made a far better album, one more resonant and emotional. Seven Sisters is a great debut album, one with infectiously melodic songs. But Bees digs deeper, music that finds its way in ways that don’t lean solely on a lingering melody.
It’s also more challenging. An academic way of saying the album is less catchy and more nuanced. But it works to great effect, revealing more with each listen. It gets under the surface via tender guitar playing or Mabry’s introspective and sometimes brooding tones.
There’s power in the lush and subtle musicality. The listener is drawn in with each listen, discovering more along the way. The ethereal “Take My Photograph” opens the album and illustrative of their ability to get power from intricacy. Understated and sometimes hypnotic, the song enters like gentle wind and slowly disappears.
Mood is heavy on an album not fenced in by verse-chorus-verse driven material. Engaging, soothing songs that evoke reflection and warmth (“I am Mine,” “First Began” or “Take My Photograph”). “East of Tennessee” and “Come on Make it Right Once” are radio ready and album highlights to be sure. The former is a sunny number that paints a wandering spirit. The latter is a beautiful, smoldering song in which Mabry’s vocals feel tempered and frail against Holloman’s scratchy guitar adding to the tension.
Where Seven Sisters is an album that’s like a sundress, drawing attention for specific reasons, Colony of Bees is the evening dress – darker, heavier colors and songs not vying for attention. Melodies found are richer but less prominent on Bees. They show the duo fleshing out ideas, show maturity and them more confident in crafting material, especially with the three part exploration of “Kilimanjaro.” Holloman’s thoughtful guitar playing envelops Mabry throughout. “On the Frame” is a fine example, where careful banjo playing dances around the song’s dual vocals. Mabry is a wonderful singer, one of the best in the area, whose voice is consistently a mix of tenderness and cornered earnestness.
Together they’ve made Colony of Bees as a collection of songs that form a journey of emotions – excited, haunted, broken, and found again. Best heard from beginning to end as a single experience, Bees has a long shelf life ahead, all due to music created with a timeless feel and graceful sophistication.
Colony of Bees is available on CD and digital download. It can be had at Beta Radio in both formats and physical copies can also be purchased at Gravity Records. A vinyl version of the album will be available in February.
Beta Radio will perform at Bourgie Nights on February 13th.
Colony of Bees full playlist: