- PHOTO PROVIDED
- Redbeard Samurai's "Rain Fall Down" is a notable shift away from head-on hip-hop, toward R&B and soul.
As I write this, a persistent bout of snow is falling on Rochester, in April, and the self-quarantines continue. There’s a blend of cozy and dreary vibes that could only commingle when inclement yet all-too-familiar April weather meets 20 days-and-counting of a statewide stay-at-home order.
And yet it seems like the perfect time to lean into Redbeard Samurai’s new single “Rain Fall Down” and its accompanying video. Last November, when CITY last caught up with Blake Pattengale — the Rochester rapper and jazz guitarist behind the music — he wanted to stir more soul music influences into the ecstatic hip-hop soup stock that made Redbeard’s full-length debut album, “Second: Banished From Highstrung Falls” such a boisterous, in-your-face experience.
This conscious effort toward a stylistic shift shows up on “Rain Fall Down,” in which Pattengale tones things down considerably. The goal was to make the music increasingly accessible and “to show the softer side of Redbeard Samurai,” he said in a recent email. The result is a smooth, understated stroll through R&B, with Pattengale reminiscing fondly about a past love.
The unassuming, straightforward music video, shot by Erica Jae as an NPR Tiny Desk Contest entry, finds Redbeard Samurai and his musical coterie performing in a makeshift basement studio that looks as if it could double as an underground bunker. But what the video lacks in glossy production, it makes up for in bittersweet sincerity.
The lead vocals are delivered with a kind of bleary-eyed certainty. Redbeard’s band, the JB Dojo, provides a dreamy backdrop. Keyboardist Max Greenberg leads the ensemble with cascading harmonic flourishes that add seduction to the sound. Melody Rose and Vanishing Sun’s Zahyia Rolle punctuate the chorus with soothing harmonies that help to propel the song forward.
At times, however, the raw, easy-going aesthetics of the performance sell the song short. The mix lacks a formidable low-end presence, and the rhythm section of bassist Luis Carrion (also of Vanishing Sun) and drummer BJ Terry sounds canned and somewhat stifled underneath the shimmering treble of the guitar and keyboards. And while the relaxed, sultry quality to Pattengale’s voice is welcome, occasionally flat intonation creeps in.
Recorded just before the COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone into their respective homes and even small group gatherings, musical or otherwise, became ill-advised, “Rain Fall Down” feels like an intimate celebration of music-making’s community-building capabilities. It also captures the musical polyglot that is Redbeard Samurai in a moment of creative transition. It will be interesting to see what this talented songwriter does next.
“Rain Fall Down” is available on all digital platforms, including Spotify and iTunes, on April 11. For more on Redbeard Samurai, go to redbeardsamurai.com.
Daniel J. Kushner is CITY’s music editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.