By Joe Hawkins
In 2019, Aubree Liz and her band, Roadie, took a leap forward in their progression with the release of their debut LP, Soapbox. While we’re all stuck waiting for life to resume again in 2021, let’s take a trip down memory lane and build some excitement for when we finally get to hear Roadie’s horns blare in person again soon.
Soapbox is an eclectic mix of pleasant styles. From Americana tinged, Sinatra-style swing on the track “Lowlight” to folk with funk-pop guitars on the opening track “Tell Me,” Roadie shows a diversity and breadth in their songwriting and arranging that would excite any potential fan for the future of their discography. Their signature brass sound can blare when it needs to, but also knows how to bleed into more mellow melodies. The album brings a lot to the table, and it clearly makes its case as to why Roadie should be better known around Utah.
Let’s talk about what this album does well. Lyrically, you always know the intent behind Aubree Liz’s soulful, mourning vocals. Yet the poetry remains just ambiguous enough to leave room for intrigue. The warm, soothing vocals invite you in, and the carefully picked moments of breathy emotion remind you why you’re here to stay. Many of these songs make you feel as though you’re living through the energy of the late afternoon, and gradually shifting to a cozy evening by the fireside as the light slowly slips away.
That’s not where the magic stops, either. All sprinkled throughout the record are tasteful moments where the instrumentals perfectly carry their weight, adding just enough to let you know they’re there, but not enough to feel too busy. As far as the arrangements are concerned, nothing feels stuffy, and nothing seems amiss. From fantastic hooks to frightfully well-timed licks, the ear candy is present for the listener.
For anyone who hasn’t yet pulled them up on your streaming service of choice, I recommend their track “All the World.” The emptiness of the start, with the soul-dripping vocal on top of an acoustic guitar and a touch of a piano is perfect. It then leads expertly to a bass and guitar slide into a full band drop. This is a prime example of Roadie’s arranging expertise – nothing is a moment too soon or too late. Then, when the song begins to flag, here come the horns! Masterfully done. The use of all the elements, from guitars, to horns, to a choir, to the punch of the drums and squidgy bass below it all – they all fit where they’re needed most.
Now for my favorite track. Spoilers: it’s the emotional conclusion to the entire thing. First time I heard “Here & Gone,” I found myself shivering. The lyrics and melody are perfectly captured in the vocal performance, punching you in the gut with the emotion they portray. While I could ooze all day about Liz’s vocals (and trust me, I would), the more impressive show is the restraint used in building the rest of the song. Not once does it feel like a jump to a higher intensity is too soon or unwelcome. This is the kind of song you feel, not listen to.
Finally, let’s chat about where this band could go next. I have relatively few gripes with the record. While not being anything groundbreaking, it still stands solidly upon the shoulders of the records it draws inspiration from and does them justice. One thing I would love to have from this band is a commitment to the highest standards of production in the future. While there was nothing massively out of place within the mixes, sometimes the vocals are overwhelmed by the drums or the brass. The record’s mix is a little more flat than I’d like it to be. The arrangements are so well done that I want a Roadie record with top-tier production that does them justice in the future.
I also found myself longing for Liz to push herself beyond the safety of her warm, smooth delivery throughout. We caught glimpses of the higher octave shining on the second to last track, “The Bullet,” and after hearing this, I not only know she has the capability to shine through with the rawness of a higher register, but the emotional delivery is something she has the chops to do. Go for it, girl! Pretty is lovely, but raw grit at the right moment can create a masterpiece. I’d love for her to explore more of this side of her vocals in the future.
While everything in this review is subjective, the objective fact is that Roadie is just good. Period. Even before the release of this record, they were captivating their fans with their electric feel on-stage. I can’t wait to hear those horns blare and have Liz’s voice take my breath away in person. For now, I’m just glad I have the excellent Soapbox to get me by.
Make sure to like Roadie on Facebook and follow them on Instagram @RoadieMusic. You can listen to “All The World” below.