Review for Broke in the USA by Evan Crandell June 23, 2016
Heres another review. It's not total praise on the album but Im glad he took the time to listen to it. Thanks Evan :)
Dar Stellabotta Tells Some Captivating Stories
Dar Stellabotta has a truly unique voice in her songwriting as her lyrics and musical choices make the listener pay attention. The music, however, becomes too repetitive and fails to maintain the listener's engagement throughout.
For some reason, it seems like it’s become less and less common for musicians to tell stories in their music. Perhaps some write about more general themes to reach a wider audience. Whatever the reason may be, it’s now refreshing to hear a musician take the listener on a journey into a new and different world. That’s where people like singer-songwriter Dar Stellabotta come in. The Maryland native’s recent album Broke in the USA is like a storybook of her feelings and experiences told in a sort of narrative form. With the use of traditional folk instrumentation with primarily guitar or banjo and drums, Stellabotta brings the listener into the fascinating world that is her life.
The album begins with the almost uncomfortably stripped down “Rachael Joined The Machine,” in the sense that the simple, repeating banjo line and vocals are so unexpected that it demands the listener pay attention. The brief song only teases at the full story of the situation but it certainly peaks our interest as we’re left wondering who is Rachael and what happened between the two of them. Were they in a relationship? Perhaps they used to play music together and Rachael left for a more traditional line of work and steady paycheck? We’ll never know the full story, but the song nevertheless grabs our interest.
Several of the remaining tracks on Broke in the USA act as sort of cautionary tales for the audience. With “Lost In The Dirt,” for example, Stellabotta takes a religious turn as she sings phrases like, “the sun won’t shine for the sinners out there / you better watch out / you better take care / the good Lord will watch you from above.” She doesn’t get any more specific than that, leaving the listener again to simply speculate. Then on “Old Man Willy,” Stellabotta tells the tale of a man who lived with regret before dying alone. She writes, “Now he sits alone in his rocking chair / can’t even move a muscle / can’t even comb his hair / and the angel of death creeps over him.” Regardless of the specific themes in the different songs, it’s clear that Stellabotta has a clear set of ideals, often with a religious influence, that she wants to impart on her audience.
Perhaps the strongest track on the album is another cautionary story called “Fountain of Youth.” The song has some musical surprises with the use of the bass and some chord changes to go along with Stellabotta’s rhythmic banjo picking. Lyrically, she warns of the dangers of constantly searching for something that has long since passed. She writes, “Chasing the fountain of youth / how long before you lost all of you… stuck by yourself all alone / looking in the mirror no one’s home.” It’s another almost chilling message but an important reminder to all of us.
The music on Broke in the USA sounds at times almost like sketches of songs that still need to be fleshed out and perfected. Many of the tracks are in the same key and have minimal chord changes, a fact that is not a problem in itself, but stands out by the end of the album. Additionally, many of Stellabotta’s vocal phrases reappear in multiple songs, further emphasized by the lack of diversity in the songs’ keys. There is nothing wrong with simplistic music making; this album just needed some extra variation to give more impact to Stellabotta’s captivating lyrics.
It’s clear from Broke in the USA that Dar Stellabotta is an artist with a unique voice, both vocally and thematically. Her stories are intriguing, making the listener crave for more then the album is over and she offers a fresh take on a throwback style of writing lyrics. If she can bring her compositions to new musical worlds by adding different keys and chord progression, while staying within her own well-defined stylistic terrain, her music will undoubtedly take off. Anybody who listens to Broke in the USA will be excitedly waiting for that day.