The Deslondes are a five-piece band from New Orleans. The band splits up songwriting and lead vocal duties among its five members, continuing its democratic ethos and musical versatility. Multiple members have released solo recordings between their sophomore release, Hurry Home (2016) and their latest release Ways & Means but throughout the time between albums the Deslondes continued to build on their inventive take on New Orleans country and R&B. Ways & Means finds the band leaning on the country-folk of their debut along with the sometimes-psychedelic, electrified gospel-soul sound of Hurry Home. The sound will continue to draw comparisons to the country-funkiness of The Band, Link Wray and others but Ways & Means is the sound of a band that understands the history of American music, while embracing their own contemporary approach.
Everything clicks on Safe to Run, the fourth album from singer, songwriter, and perpetual searcher Esther Rose. It’s the quiet culmination of years spent fully immersed in a developing artistry, and presents Rose’s always vividly detailed emotional scenes with new levels of clarity and control. As with previous work, her songwriting transfigures the chaos and uncertainty of a life in progress, but here she introduces a newfound pop element that attaches unshakably catchy hooks to even the darkest stretches of the journey.
Rose takes an unblinking look at her own vulnerabilities as well as more universal concerns, somehow never taking herself too seriously in the process. This manifests as a critique of the insidious sexism of the music industry on “Dream Girl,” but quickly melts into a hazy memoryscape of the dive bar drama and suspended hovering of her early 20s on “Chet Baker.” The song “Safe to Run” (a gorgeous duet with Hurray for the Riff Raff’s Alynda Segarra) directly merges the personal with the global, superimposing feelings of spiritual displacement onto the larger, looming dread of climate grief. Rose breathes in the ecstasy of the natural world in one line and makes fun of herself a few bars later. There are ghosts in the room for most of her songs, but she’s invited them in and is cracking jokes with them over a drink or two.
Ultimately all of these new advancements become twinkles of light in the background as they fold into the big picture impact of the songs themselves. Esther Rose translates her world into eleven curious and captivating scenes. While the songs are stunning one by one, absorbing Safe to Run as a whole feels like witnessing something taking shape, experiencing the headspins of the elevation and the slow return to equilibrium as the clouds start clearing.