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Serena Ryder’s new album, Harmony, is a departure from her country-folk roots. This is her fifth studio album and in the five years since her last release she has completely revolutionized her sound aesthetic. The album is a hodgepodge barrage of stylistic elements that come together to highlight her vocal range and musical dexterity. From the raspy whisper of her older works to the strong R&B sounds of “Heavy Love,” Ryder’s mezzo-soprano voice seems to contort into chameleonic variations. The wanderlust variety of Harmony make it the perfect soundtrack for a road trip.
The album begins with “What I Wouldn’t Do,” a bouncy folk-inspired ballad with an undeniable chorus. The song heightens into a pop-perfect crescendo that blends well-layered lyrics with soaring intonations. This song, above all others on the album, (except, of course, the single “Stompa”) will leave a sonic semblance in your mind that will make you want to listen to it over and over again.
The next few songs add and subtract musical elements as Ryder demonstrates her mastery of a three-octave range. You may mistake what you are listening to as a lost TLC B-side when “Call Me” clicks on. Next on the album is “Baby Come Back” which is a snappy, boot tapping tune that laments the loss of a loved one. The track is sidelined in the middle by a beautiful breakdown of angelic ethereality. The gentle strings and soft piano on these songs provide an enchanting bedding to her choral wiles.
Quite possibly the most surprising song on Harmony is Serena Ryder’s “For You”. This track is elegantly draped in orchestral swank while Ryder takes it down to an Adele depth to belt out lines that are most appropriately suited to the opening sequence of a James Bond film. Never to be caught boring the listener, the song injects a funky sixties organ sample to the song that updates the decor of the track. A dubby echo attached to the tail of certain lyrics makes one wonder what era this song is from. The answer, as with all songs on this album, is that it is perfectly tailored for now. Harmony is a completely post-modern assemblage of styles that is perfectly relevant in today’s music scene.
The hit single “Stompa” sits heavily near the end of the album. For listeners who have heard it on the airwaves, it is a foreboding warning that if you think you know where this album is leading you, that you are dead wrong. “Stompa” is the only electronic track on the album. It is an absolute club banger that is sure to mesmerize even the most steadfast folk fans. The driving distorted bass line has to sit shot gun to Ryder’s low rude boy drawl. As the song builds an electric guitar riff signals Serena to rise up and command listeners to “Slow down; Open up your big brown eyes/Feel the rhythm in your heart/Gotta get up/Clappa your hands, Stompa your feet.” You can’t help but finally give in.