Something to Say, the second EP from forward-thinking folk rocker Reuben Bidez, is an analog album for the digital age. Raw and reflective, it holds a mirror to the machines that make the modern world tick, from politics to sexual appetites to social media. Along the way, Bidez shows the full range not only of his voice — an elastic instrument, with an upper register and rich vibrato that have earned comparisons to Jeff Buckley and Roy Orbison — but of his songwriting chops, too.
He's a tongue-in-cheek rabble rouser on the EP's title track, urging America's wannabe movers-and-shakers to stop "grandstanding from your sofa" and, instead, take a real stand. "Nothing says 'revolution' like clogging up the interstate," he sings during the final verse, while electric guitars, 12-string acoustics, and vintage keyboards chime in the background. Fellow Nashvillian Molly Parden makes an appearance on "What You Really Wanted," a rainy-day duet whose harmonies nod to Fleetwood Mac. Later, Bidez turns up the tempo and the volume on "Bad Name," the fiercest rock song he's ever released.
Together, Something to Say's six songs reflect and respond to the contemporary world, offering something real in an age of Facebook algorithms and Twitter feeds. Not only has Bidez found his voice; he's found something current and compelling to sing about, too.
"On earlier records, I focused a lot on romance and relationships," says the songwriter, whose 2016 release, Turning to Wine, earned him a slot at the Bonnaroo Festival, as well as acclaim from outlets like American Songwriter, No Depression, and The New York Times. "But I've learned that great art is sometimes divisive, and I have thoughts about where the world is going and where our culture is headed. I've got something to say. This isn't the time for me to write love songs — it's time to take a stand and do something that, maybe, not everyone wants to hear."
Although written in Nashville — his adopted hometown since 2014, when the Georgia-born Bidez left Atlanta and moved to Tennessee — Something to Say was largely recorded with producer Jeff Saenz in Dallas, TX. There, during a week-long session at Modern Electric Sound Recorders, he found himself free to explore a sound that reached far beyond the usual boundaries of Americana. He was charting new territory, assisted by a group of instrumentalists — including past and present members of the Texas Gentlemen — who've collectively performed alongside artists like Regina Spektor, St. Vincent, Midlake, and the Quaker City Night Hawks.
"You discover new things about yourself when you leave 'the familiar' behind," he explains. "It's tempting to stay in one place and chase down one sound, because that's comfortable. But it doesn't mean you'll be making good art. I needed to leave some old patterns behind. I needed a challenge."
The decision to record in Dallas was partially influenced by the Texas Gentlemen, several of whom had already become Bidez's personal friends. More friends awaited back home in Nashville, where he wound up finishing the EP alongside longtime bandmates like Wyatt Funderburk and Seth Plemmons, as well as Marren Morris drummer and fellow Atlantan Christian Paschall. It was good company. More importantly, it was good music, influenced by everything from the warm-sounding fretwork of George Harrison to the heartland epics of Tom Petty.
Bidez and company recorded most songs in a series of live takes, emphasizing vibe over perfection. They stretched their legs on "Bad Name," a rock & roll ripper that builds its way toward a fiery, psychedelic finish, and kept things taut on "Don't Let Me Die," a sharp, swaggering pop song about a life lived far too carelessly. On the EP's anthemic closer, "Desert," dueling slide guitars trace circles around a gauzy synthesizer, while an acoustic guitar keeps the song from drifting skyward. The result is an anthem that's both grounded and ethereal — a soundtrack for, as Bidez puts it, "the horizon where desert and space meet."
On the EP's cover, Reuben Bidez looks into the corner of a mirror, resulting in a triple reflection. It's an appropriate visual for an album that deals with big themes like identity. "The whole album is a reflection of the times in which we're living, where the line between reality and virtual reality can become blurred easily," he explains. "It's about the struggle to be honest — about having the confidence not to play some sort of role, but to be who you really are. I'm not a traditional Americana artist by any means, and I'm not a folk artist. I'm not a rocker. I'm me… and this record is me learning how to really own that sound."