Review by: Annie Reuter, contributing writer for rollingstone.com, MTV.com, and AOL
To fully grasp singer-songwriter Neill Bell’s latest release, Before De Forest, one must be given a history lesson on Lee De Forest. One of the fathers of the “electronic age” and the inventor of the Vacuum Tube Amplifier, the album’s name signifies the purity of music before electronics, amps and computers, Bell explains. As a result, the 14-track album is a stripped down release with nothing but Bell’s voice and acoustic guitar at the forefront.
Before De Forest delicately begins with finger picked rhythms on “Fisherman (N.O.).” A poignant tale of the aftermath of a hurricane, Bell’s mention of Hurricane Katrina strikes a chord. The destruction and despair of the natural disaster is felt throughout the track within Bell’s wavering vocals and guitar interludes.
Next track, “Let It Roll” is an impassioned ballad showcasing Bell’s serious side. “All the girls I’ve loved are crazy/Too bad none of them are crazy about me,” he sings. With distinct grit in his voice, the track embodies a distinct country quality as Bell sings of unrequited love amidst solid guitar breakdowns.
“World of Lies” switches gears with higher vocals and an upbeat guitar beat before “Everything” slows things down with subtle plucked guitar accompaniment. As Bell’s voice crescendos mid-track, his guitar rhythms follow suit, providing ample complement to his reverberating vocals. Nearly one minute before the track ends, additional wavering guitar parts intrigue.
The dark “High In Kansas” follows a similar pattern with deep vocals and subtle strums of the guitar. However, halfway through the song the guitar parts take a departure. Mixing quick paced strums alongside a rougher approach, the track stands well on its own.
Standout track “Push” is an emotional number, full of confusion. Asking his love to stay, Bell is faced with the uncertainty of love. “You let love get in the way . . . Push your love aside,” he sings passionately. All the while, Bell’s impressive vibrato further showcases his pain, leaving a mark on the listener.
“Sweet Pain” continues to exemplify Bell’s powerhouse singing style with lengthy notes throughout while “Paper Plate” illustrates his fierce guitar handiwork. The intricate guitar features continue to stand out on Before De Forest.
Not many artists can produce such a memorable stripped down release, but Bell manages to make it work. “Deep Autumn East” evokes slight resemblance to Kings of Leon frontman Caleb Followill with powerful yearning while the folksy “Still” reintroduces his country side.
The handpicked “My Mind,” fast paced “So Short” and heartfelt “Vacation” effortlessly close the LP. With his honest lyrics and emotive singing style, Bell strikes a chord. As a result, there is a reason listener’s keep coming back album after album. His sixth release, Bell steps out of his comfort zone to try something new: a completely pure album without the bells and whistles of the expected album production. Before electronics, amps and computers were at the forefront of music production an album was all about the music. Not many could achieve the same results as Bell has and this is what sets him apart from the crowd.
Though Bell’s stripped down approach might seem predictable to some, he manages to showcase his versatility on each track. Alone on vocals and acoustic guitar for the majority of Before De Forest, he manages to make each song unique with varied vocals and guitar accompaniment. Not always the best way to entice listeners, Bell however continues to impress and showcase his talent.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Review by Annie Reuter
Annie Reuter, a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and music blogger, covers concerts and music festivals around the country. Her articles have been featured on MTV.com, RollingStone.com and AOL