Review Summary: It's not just an album... it's a damn party invitation.
Sometimes context and setting mean everything, and that’s most certainly the case here. If you go into Staying at Tamara’s
expecting some incredibly deep and elaborate folk music in the vein of The Tallest Man on Earth, it’s definitely going to disappoint on quite a few levels. Admittedly, a bit too much has been made of George Ezra’s “singer-songwriter” status in the media and the lens of various critics; the guy’s talented, but the rootsy element of his work is felt more on a surface level than anything. Think of him as either a more personal, intimate version of Mumford and Sons or a more down-to-earth heartland version of fellow folk-pop compatriot Ed Sheeran. Basically, the more polished and arena-sized form of folk music. But that’s not always a bad thing, and if you use Staying at Tamara’s
as a soundtrack to spring and summer nights at the beach or getting lost in the city (provided you live in one), the mix of anthemic stadium rock and little acoustic guitar intricacies can be a delight.
In fact, the album is a nice continuation of Wanted on Voyage
an equally poppy and bubbly record that was refreshingly triumphant and free of cynicism. Right from the moment the larger-than-life opener “Pretty Shining People” (thankfully much better than the R.E.M. song of a similar name) bursts through the speakers, it becomes pretty clear what you’re in for here. Ezra’s distinctively deep and rich baritone voice melds incredibly well with the stomping beats and smooth acoustic guitar runs, and seemingly every effort has been made to make the production as gigantic and enveloping as possible. You really feel like you’re a part of the celebration, which is a vibe that lasts for the record’s duration. Multi-tracked vocals and explosive choruses are the order of the day, especially in nimble pop-rock numbers like “Get Away” and the appropriately-titled romantic euphoria of “Paradise.” The production is a huge plus on Staying at Tamara’s
, not only sounding large and expansive but also finely detailed and textured. There’s a lot to focus on to warrant repeated listens, whether it’s the way the lead guitar rings out in a Julien Baker-esque fashion or the subtle melodic shifts of the bass playing.(which is surprisingly prominent here). There’s also a bit less emphasis on Ezra’s voice, which is to his benefit since he practically overpowered the tunes on Wanted on Voyage
. Here, it’s just the right balance.
If there was one other artist I’d peg as being a possible influence to George Ezra’s sound, it’d be The Gaslight Anthem. There’s a certain penchant here to infuse a heartland edge into the material, as if channeling the uplifting runaway energy and humility of Bruce Springsteen. Unfortunately, this leads to the main gripe I have with Staying at Tamara’s
, which is to say that the more humble and traditional folk elements don’t sound fully fleshed out. It’s tough to ask artists to pull their sound in two different directions at once, and that’s the slight sense of disconnect heard here. George Ezra is at his best when combining poppy hooks and lots of instrumental details, but there’s a decent amount of vapidity in the lyrics that doesn’t quite cut it for the folkier side of the music. Once in a while, you’ll hear a gem like this (“Sugarcoat”):
Once upon a time in South Africa
I turned to you under the bleeding moon
The ships were sailing in beneath the table top
It was three o'clock, the night was still
...only to come across a groaner like this (“Paradise”):
My love (my love)
My lover, lover, lover
I'm in paradise whenever I'm with you
My mind (my mind)
Well it's a paradise whenever I'm with you
Inconsistencies aside, I still can’t deny how fun and enjoyable the experience is. You definitely have to be in the right state of mind going in, as the pop-driven level of hustle and energy will not be for everyone. But call to mind the good times and fleeting moments of euphoria, and it might just be the right thing at the right time.