The format of musical structure that represented Esperanza Spalding’s 2010 release Chamber Music Society is one that is centuries old. It’s a presentation of music that had birthed itself in classical realms within a very intimate environment. Originally Spalding was looking to release that record as a double effort alongside a possibly more familiar sounding arrangement, made available for an additional audience, but success has left time as a premium and that project would wait to unveil itself, until now in the form of Radio Music Society.
“Now you can’t help singing, even though you’ve never heard it,” sings Spalding on “Radio Song,” the opening track of the record. The words in this piece seem to define that aim for this collection, as it looks to reveal something that has been unknown for some time in the mainstream; it’s the idea of a sound becoming reborn. This track sets the pace for the album as it characterizes the relationship with radio as a musical companion through life. Spalding even makes room to fit in the experience of pulling over to the side of the road to quickly write down lyrics to an unfamiliar song in order to capture the essence, all within her own wordplay. It describes the experience of music as a friend, a thread that is carried along throughout the course of the record.
The phraseology of her compositions take the listener from scene to scene while moving at a tempo that gives adequate time to view and understand the surroundings. Her use of the voice as an instrument translates harmonies through a different lens, one that is more freeing. “Black Gold” is an uplifting piece that focuses on strengthening the soul and building from the inside. The hopeful youth perspective is added in as a chorus joins Spalding in the closing transition, adding thrust to the direction of the song. Spalding’s development began construction in Portland, Oregon, one that she tributes heavily on “City of Roses,” her birthplace which carries the namesake. “Anywhere I go these roots are with me, and I find, I take along a little piece of heaven with these memories of mine,” sings Spalding of her remembrance in such a descriptive manner. “How can we call our home the land of the free, until we’ve unbound the praying hands of each innocent woman and man,” sings Spalding on “Land of the Free,” describing the immorality of convicting of someone who is “five fifths an innocent man.” The closing to this piece is the most gripping of her work, leaving an abrupt sense of hollowness inside of you, the same feeling felt inside this track’s center point.
There have been times where radio and music in general has been available to listen to our thoughts, while providing only the soothing response it knows. That companionship is what has been somewhat lost in recent years, though artists like Esperanza Spalding are doing their “damndest to make a whole lot of great music,” equating that fogginess into clarity.