I’m not sure I understand the concept of the mixtape. I mean, I know what one is, but I don’t know why it’s something that musicians release. Perhaps they function much like EPs, as a sort of “hey-here-ya-go” for the fans between full-length albums. At the very least, I suppose mixtapes and EPs are a good way to let the people know you’re still making music.
In the case of Shareese Renée Ballard – Res, to her hopefully growing legion of fans – that sort of reminder has special significance. After all, those of us who have been following her since her 2001 debut (How I Do, which was largely co-written with Santi White, who I’m hoping will release her second album before 2016. Oh shit, I guess I better hope she gets it out before May 21st!) had to wait eight years for a follow-up (2009′s folky but fine Black Girls Rock), largely because of industry bullshit. So giving her fans the sense that the interim between Black Girls Rock and whatever her third album is called (rumors abound of an album called Reset, but I’ll believe it when I can listen to it) will be relatively short makes her free mixtape, A Box of Chocolates, all the sweeter, if you’ll pardon the pun (I wouldn’t).
Res gave us A Box of Chocolates on Valentine’s Day and if you think that’s as cutesy as it gets, wait until you realize that the first thing you hear on the mixtape is Forrest Fucking Gump saying his pithy little line about what life is like. Apparently Mr. Gump, a retard of infuriatingly vague (read: no) diagnosis, has never actually seen a box of chocolates; you see, most of them come with little cards that tell you exactly what you’re gonna get. And let’s face it, even if you get the shitty boxes of chocolates that don’t tell you what’s in them, sometimes in life, you know exactly what’s coming. Like when your wife/husband/significant other says, “We need to talk.” You know what’s coming – your ass is in some kind of trouble. I realize that has nothing to do with Res but I really really don’t like Forrest Gump. It’s Baby Boomer Nostalgia Bait at its absolute worst.
Anyway, you can download A Box of Chocolates here if you wanna check it out. I’m sure you can also download Forrest Gump plenty of places too, but I don’t want to link to any of them. It’s not an anti-piracy thing so much as it’s a not-wanting-to-steer-my-readers-toward-crappy-things thing.
A Box of Chocolates features new versions and/or remixes of songs from Res’s two great albums, a couple songs I’ve never heard before, and a cover of Harry Nilsson’s “One.” The whole thing is just about a half an hour long and I think it’s safe to say that Res’s fans will find a lot to like about it. So if the intention of this particular mixtape is to let us know that Res’s creative juices are still flowing just fine, thanks, then mission accomplished. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have a brief reminder that Res is one of the best (and by far the most underrated) Soul/R&B/Pretty Much Whatever Else She Does vocalists of the last eleven years.
Both its intense brevity and my lack of experience with mixtapes make A Box of Chocolates kind of hard to judge like a conventional album. Don’t get me wrong, there is stuff to criticize here, chiefly the use of Auto-Tune on “Say You Will.” I get, for the millionth time, that some people use it as an aesthetic choice. But I still hate it. Auto-Tune makes everything sound awful, especially awesome voices. Res’s voice is way too awesome for Auto-Tune and that’s final (honestly, the Auto-Tune and the presence of his Gumpitude are my least favorite things about this whole album. You can file those under “minor grievances”). Plenty of people disagree with me about Auto-Tune, by the way, but I didn’t start doing Bollocks! because I thought everyone would (or should) agree with me. I started Bollocks! because I was tired of masturbating.
Conceptually, A Box of Chocolates flows kind of like a flashback episode – there are new versions of old songs (the stuff from How I Do still sounds fresh as hell), and a few spoken-word bits about Res’s career up to this point. It may seem premature to do that after only two albums, but remember that Res fought for years to get her second album out (and Black Girls Rock is really only her second released album. According to her website, she recorded an album for Geffen that never saw the light of day. Nobody knows how to fuck up good music quite like the music industry). So yeah, the sung/spoken/rapped “Industry Diaries” might seem a little obvious but overall, A Box of Chocolates shows that Res is still excited to make music (and plenty playful at making it too) at a point when a lot of people would’ve thrown in the towel and gotten a job mucking out the video booths at an all-night porn arcade (Official Bollocks! Fact: everyone who quits or is forced out of the music industry is immediately offered a position as All-Night Porn Arcade Video Booth Mucker-Outer. What do you think the guys from Semisonic have been doing for the last ten years?).
The new songs – at least they’re new to me – indicate that Res Album #3 might have more of the funk/hip-hop vibe of How I Do, which is just fine with me. I like Black Girls Rock quite a bit, but How I Do had a real swagger to it that I kind of missed on the second record. “One” seems to split the difference between the two albums, to extremely pleasant effect. Regardless of which album you prefer, Res, like her pal Santi White, has a real potential to make awesome, genreless music and if A Box of Chocolates is as much a mixed bag as it is a mixtape, it still offers compelling evidence of that fact.