Heart & Soul, Failures and Ambition: Solange's A Seat at the Table

Let's get it out of the way. Solange is Beyonce's sister. But she ain't making the same music. Case in point: her 2016 album A Seat at the Table, which put the world on notice, and for good reason.

In A Seat at the Table Solange managed to convey truth in every song, line by line, with extended, booming bass lines drawing out her art to the far reaches of space.  She penned these songs with a eye for detail. Profound poetry is paired with layered, modern, and fresh sounding soul to create an album that occupies its own artistic space. While the keyboards, imaginative guitars, sharp drums, and deep layered bass punctuate the poetry to the max, it is Solange's voice that makes your soul feel like it's been soaking in a restorative hot spring. The album is an emotional trip, like a therapy session. It details mistakes, concerns, heartache, ambitions, future hopes-all of it. None of the songs are drawn out, either, but instead its a album that demands you listen to a song beat by beat, line by line, key by key. The cinema here is moving in slow motion. The world is rainy and gray juxtaposed against a pink, art deco apartment building in Miami that is full of life even on it's darkest days. In many ways, the album cover says it all. Serious, but ready for life. A color movie in black and white.

Let's get to the best songs: "Weary" is as the title implies. It is a late night tune that catches Solange brooding, suspicious of the world those around her. It's a document of loneliness, I think, and offers an acknowledgment that everything can come crashing down all at once. Since she's saying that, it probably did. A minor key bass line and scattered, yet sensible hits on the keyboard trod the darkened path that allow for Solange to question the motives of the both the powerful and those around her. Wisely, she sings that the "king is only a man/ with flesh and blood/ that bleeds just like you do". The acknowledgment of common humanity makes this tune a pessimistic document of hope, with the music to match.

"Cranes in the Sky" is the masterpiece of the album. Fresh, vibrant drums bring us slowly into a retrospective blanket of strings. Solange takes it from there, singing about every way in the world there is to get over depression. Money, material possession, sex, drinking, work, staying busy, working out-none are presented as a solution here. The image of cranes in the sky strikes me as deeply poetic. Human's look "up" for hope, and I think Solange was engaging that practice here. Looking up to the night sky, to God, to progress that cranes represent, reaching upwards toward the heavens.

"Don't Wish Me Well" is the ultimate statement on endings, ambitions, and beginnings. A downright shreddy yet clean guitar bleeds into a slow bass line at the start, leading us into Solange's statement of ambition. "I'm going all the way", she sings, "but I'll leave on the mic for you". She's after her life goals, but she's not bitter or petty, and wants everyone to have their own "mic" or voice in life to pursue their own vision of wholeness. Here, Solange's voice is about the best it gets.

Popular Posts

"Torch Songs" and "Cast Iron Ballads": Deep Cuts from the Planet Waves Era

Review: Bob Dylan at the Oakdale Theatre

Peace, Bullets, Schools, Chaos, Life, and The Drive by Truckers

Along for the Ride with Tell Tale Signs

"Tangled Up In Blue": What's the Best Version?

Jeff Lynne's on the Phone

If Street Legal was the Question, Bob Hopped on the Slow Train for the Answer

Lost in a Dream: Bob Dylan, 1967-1974

This Train is Bound For Glory: Blood on the Tracks

1968: The Songs that Went the Other Way