Joel Rakes’ “The Philadelphia Session”
The Philadelphia Sessions is Joel Rakes’ second full-band EP—and it was created in 5 hours, as part of a live-in-studio session. By the time I’m done writing this review, I could have written 1.5 songs for an EP, in Joel Rakes’ time. You must think the band’s feat is pretty impressive. And in a way, it […]Beth Yeckley
out of 10
The Philadelphia Session
February 16, 2010
The Philadelphia Sessions is Joel Rakes’ second full-band EP—and it was created in 5 hours, as part of a live-in-studio session. By the time I’m done writing this review, I could have written 1.5 songs for an EP, in Joel Rakes’ time.
You must think the band’s feat is pretty impressive. And in a way, it is. The EP, which was recorded in August of 2009, is a total act of caution thrown to the wind. While intriguing, it’s ultimately unsatisfying in its nature, which is more often than not a one-dimensional performance.
The album’s first song, “Hold On” begins with the kind of percussion and violin medley that makes you thankful for things like summer and balloons. The guitar joins this little duo and the music, collectively, convinces you to roll down the windows in your car, even if it’s 34 degrees out. Rakes’ vocals are most reminiscent to Jason Mraz on this track, soothing and polished, though not nearly as capable or engaging. You sit through 3:19 and think this could be a truly enjoyable EP.
But then you notice that Rakes’ lyrical compositions are not terribly well crafted; and it becomes grossly apparent that in quite a few of the songs, he recycles the same phrase repeatedly to create his hook. He’ll sing, “It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok…” or “I want you to know, I want you to know, I want you to know.” On “This Girl,” we hear elementary expression, closely resembling bad eighth grade poetry (I would know… I was once an eighth grader and a wannabe poet…) singing, “Cannot see this girl enough / She’s a diamond in the rough / When everything seems so tough / Here comes this girl.”
“This Girl” and “Your Love Smothers Me (…In A Good Way)” start off in similar fashion, with vocals skipping over simple and stripped down notes. Then halfway through, the rest of the ensemble joins in. While “This Girl” is easily redeemed by violin play that holds the song together, it is equally distressed by the unbalanced pitch changes in Rakes’ vocals. “Your Love Smothers Me” reveals the story of how this EP was recorded with pronounced jam band qualities. This is one of the few times that the band’s raw play and energy actually create a visual experience for listeners, in which we are transported to a front porch nestled somewhere with warm weather and a group of friends playing for fun.
And it seems that this is the kind of sentiment and quality that Joel Rakes wants to convey. But that being said, if you can write some catchy lines and have some friends who like to jam in their free time… you could be the next Joel Rakes.
Raw is great. But I’ve heard kitchen recordings pack more soul, lyrical prowess, and inventive musical arrangements than The Philadelphia Sessions. By track five, I was glad that this was a six song EP. I wanted to like this band a lot, but find they are not good for more than a song or two. Joel, get back in the studio and do it right! There’s an album in you, somewhere, that everyone is capable of loving.