John Paul White Goes Solo With "Beulah" [Album Review]

"Hey man, I saw you smilin' and singin' along the whole night so I just said, 'I'm gonna lock in on this guy.' " - John Paul White to me

Guitar in hand and dressed in his signature black suit, John Paul White took the stage at The Red Room @ Cafe 939 near the campus of Boston's Berklee College of Music on June 22nd. He was on the road to promote Beulahhis first solo album since 2008, and his first release since The Civil Wars split in 2013 after the release of their self-titled sophomore outing.

The audience had already been treated to an opening set from The Secret Sisters, a powerhouse Muscle Shoals duo who also provided otherworldly backing vocals on select songs throughout White's set. Like White, they specialize in sad lyrics set to beautiful and somehow fun melodies packed with ethereal harmonies. They are currently working on their third studio album with producer Brandi Carlile, and I eagerly await a chance to listen and review it when it drops.

John Paul White live at The Red Room @ Cafe 939 on June 22, 2016

Nearly two full months prior to the release of Beulah, the audience of young Boston music students and enthusiasts got a sneak preview of the album almost in its entirety. The emotional journey on which White leads the listener ranges from vindictive ("Make You Cry") to determined ("Fight for You"), from self-punishment ("The Martyr" and "Hope I Die") to wistful ("Black Leaf"), and even pleading ("I've Been Over This Before"). 

The standouts here are the singles "The Martyr" and "What's So", both of which are the kinds of earworms listeners have come to expect from White's songwriting. The former will immediately burrow its way into your brain and leave you singing the chorus for days. Meanwhile the latter is more of a sleeper hit, and may take a few listens before you can fully appreciate it. But once it hits you, you don't stand a chance against it.

The sequencing is pretty strong all around, though the last two tracks "Hate the Way You Love Me" and "I'll Get Even", while enjoyable, send the album out with a bit of a whimper. Not the strongest selections of the bunch, but still good listens on their own.

John Paul White, Beulah

As much as this is a new beginning for him, the similarities to White's work as a member of The Civil Wars can't be totally ignored. You can hear that Civil Wars sound on Beulah. In particular, "Fight For You" starts off with a driving acoustic riff reminiscent of "Barton Hollow" and it has structural similarities to "The One That Got Away". Meanwhile, "Make You Cry" evokes the same gentle, snowfall-like sound as "Sacred Heart". It's hard to avoid drawing comparisons between The Secret Sisters and Joy Williams, White's other half in The Civil Wars. While the Sisters have a career and distinct sound all their own, it feels like White knew his sound was missing the harmonies Williams provided, and the Sisters were the perfect partners for this project. The result is a haunting and moving sound, most noticeable on "I've Been Over This Before".

John Paul White makes a strong return to the music scene with Beulah. It's just the right mix of rock, folk, and country ballads. When The Civil Wars broke out, they were a force to be reckoned with, and it wasn't clear whether either of them could be successful without the other. Here, White proves himself as a solo artist. I look forward to playing this album over and over again the way I did both Civil Wars albums. His next release can't come soon enough.

Star Wars in Concert: A Review

ep•ic (adj.): heroic; majestic; impressively great

Epic. That's the best word I can use to describe Star Wars in Concert. As I write this, the show ended about and hour and a half ago. What an amazing show! For those who aren't aware, Star Wars in Concert is a travelling show consisting of a 86-piece orchestra, a huge choir, lasers, lights, the live narration of Anthony Daniels (a.k.a. C-3PO), and a 100-foot high-definition screen displaying clips from all six films synchronized to the music. To call it a fun and unique experience would be an understatement.

Read my full review after the jump.

The show appropriately began with the THX sound and 20th Century Fox Fanfare followed by the words, "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away." Naturally the Star Wars Main Title came next, with the iconic yellow letters fading into the distance. It was a majestic opening to an incredible evening. After the music ended, the voice of Darth Vader introduced Anthony Daniels, who took the stage and set the scene for a re-telling of the Star Wars saga through the music of John Williams.

The show was broken into segments that reflected major themes and events from the films, with each segment being introduced by Daniels. His commentary was generally direct and to-the-point, but there were some moments of levity. First, before a segment about droids, Daniels got carried away in extolling the wonders of C-3PO, which prompted conductor Dirk Brosse turned and shot him a disapproving look, at which point he stopped mid-sentence and said "right....anyway...." before continuing. It was clearly scripted, but still hilarious. Another fun piece of narration came when Daniels opened his tuxedo jacket to reveal a gold vest and slipped into the character of C-3PO, saying that the chances of survival were 3,720 to 1. He added that some people prefer never to be told the odds. Fanboys all throughout the arena laughed and cheered.

The music was, of course, exquisite. Some of the best musical moments from all six films were represented. The orchestra and choir sounded absolutely perfect. At times, I forgot that I was listening to a live performance. It really sounded that tight. The music cues were perfectly synchronized with scene changes and cuts in the video on the gorgeous screen above the orchestra. It was done freakishly well. The thought of performing this show every night, sometimes more than once a day, and executing it so perfectly every time is absolutely mind-boggling.

This was a totally unique experience. I've never seen anything quite like it before, and I don't know if I ever will again. The audience absolutely loved it. People of literally all ages smiled, laughed, and genuinely enjoyed themselves. The music was superb and the lights and video were beautiful. It was something really special. I really applaud George Lucas for allowing this wonderful show to take place. It brought people together to celebrate the amazing music of Star Wars.

Star Wars in Concert was an evening of pure gold. I heard my favorite pieces of music from my favorite film saga performed live by an incredible orchestra and choir, along with video clips from said saga, narrated by a supremely talented actor who was a part of every film from said saga. Could I have possibly asked for anything more? There was even an encore! My only complaint about the show was that I had so much fun, the night just flew by. Including a 20-minute intermission, the concert clocked in just under 2 hours, but it felt like almost half of that. So do yourself a favor and see this show if you can! Find out if there's a performance in your area and see if tickets are available. You'd be surprised how tickets become available even days before a show. You never know until you try! And you'll be glad you did! May the force be with you!