The Bare Bones of Mr. Ballad is one of three albums, featuring the same 11 songs, stylized differently for each record, which were all released on the same day by a UK artist named Chapman. Bare Bones is the acoustic album, featuring only a guitar and occasional piano to accompany Chapman’s excellent voice. The other two, The Amplification and The Remix of Mr. Ballad, feature the same songs, only with electric instruments and then remixed, respectively.
It is a unique idea in concept, but how does it fare in execution? Let’s just say it leaves a little something to be desired.
The album opens with “Grow,” a slow, simple and soulful song, driven by seemingly heartfelt lyrics and accompanied by somber finger picking guitar. The sound is about as organic as it gets, as it goes no further than vocals and acoustic guitar, which is why it serves as such a good choice to kick the album off. The next song, “That Thing,” doesn’t change things up much. Minimalistic finger picking, emotional vocals, and a calm tempo.
“It Could Get Darker” is the first song on the album that I felt stood out, and is still on of my favorites. It picks things up a little bit, not much, and replaces the acoustic guitar with a great, simple piano riff and a matching melodic vocals. “Raffi’s Song” successfully blends eastern-influenced guitar and vocals, which is cool at first but loses its appeal once you realize that nothing changes over the five minute duration of the song.
Easily my favorite song on the album is “Beautiful Time,” an excellent folk song with feel-good lyrics. When listening to it I can’t help but be reminded of Bob Dylan, who is one of my favorite artists of all time. “The Edge of the Island” slows everything down, and the mood continues through “Give Me the Morning.”
By now I’ve got more than just a few complaints. For starters, has the tempo even changed? Every song seems to move along at the same pace. Also, the construction of all the songs is extremely formulaic, and elements within the songs don’t seem to change much at all. Nearly every song ends exactly how it started, with the same guitar parts and vocal melodies. While the lyrics occasionally seem genuine and heartfelt, the majority of songs are clumsy and obviously written to be safe, never treading outside of a zone of generic sound and quality.
“Things Are Changing” brings back that piano from earlier in the album, and by this time feels like a breath of fresh air, though it suffers from many of the same complaints as the majority of the album. “Salesmen” is another one of my favorites, as the guitar riffs all work really well and the lyrics are clever. “Hum Along” sounded like it was going to be another favorite, until the actual humming started. The album ends with “Yourself,” which is really a good choice of songs to close the record out. The lyrics are inspirational and well-written, and the guitar fits the mood of the vocals perfectly.
The problems from which Bare Bones suffers may seem quite minimal, and in fact they are, but they exist throughout the duration of the album. The tempo hardly ever changes, a lot of songs seem to move a bit too slowly, and the songs hardly evolve within themselves and feel very structured. Things start on a decent note, pick up towards the middle, and by the end of the album everything, save a few exceptional songs, just starts to feel stale, and with the exception of a few songs, the whole thing just isn’t memorable in any sense of the word.
However, there are still a few gems on this album. I love throwing in some earbuds, putting on “Beautiful Time,” and laying in the grass with my eyes shut, feeling the wind on my face while Chapman’s guitar and vocals play in the background. The completely organic sound is something that is hard to come by and is perfect to listen to while relaxing.
Score: 6.5/10 (Below Average)