Music has played an integral role in shaping Reeya Banerjee’s life. Her musical parents emigrated to the United States before her birth – her classically trained vocalist mother and violinist father gave Banerjee essential building blocks for her passions to come. She began playing piano but, after a few years, shifted her focus over to singing. She sang and toured with choirs, has extensive musical theatre experience, but perhaps the key factor turning her towards pop music came earlier. Her mother introduced her as a young child to the music of The Beatles and the Fab Four sparked a sense of possibility still alight today.
Her album The Way Up kicks off with its single “The Magic Word”. There’s a small quandary with this first track. Opening with a ferocious riff-driven rock track, albeit skewed by Banerjee’s startling clean vocal, is a shot of energy for everything following it but, unfortunately, it may also create false expectations. Songwriter Luke Folger had a mandate to move Banerjee away from the classic rock sound she had been professionally associated with in recent years and “The Magic Wand” is even successful on this score.
It has a thoroughly modern guitar attack shunning the stereotypical lead guitar work and instrumental breaks common in traditional rock. The sound is far removed from anything resembling an overt blues affectation and verges on industrial. She picks her spots for emoting in unexpected places and it gives the track a different spin than your typical fare. “Rag Doll”, the album’s third song, is another one of its peak moments. It has an even more frantic pace than the opener and Banerjee responds to its demands with a physical and committed effort. She knows how to really hit the gas too when it’s needed.
Her ambitions manifest themselves in big-screen ways. The multiple sections making up songs like the title cut, however, are not rammed together without rhyme or reason. Folger definitely has the skill to seamlessly transition from one motif to the next and the lyrics do not feel like they are “laid atop” the arrangement but, instead, as if they emerged as one with the music. The confident, knifing funk guitar heard in “Don’t Look Down” is a highlight and embodies the directive of the song title. Banerjee continues bobbing and weaving as a singer and her phrasing choices merit a closer listen.
Songs such as “Need You There” explore the pop side of Folger and Banerjee’s collaboration deeper than others. The bright bounce of its guitar provides a perfect counterpoint for her voice and the light use of vocal effects enhances her performance. It’s another energetic romp, as well. “Bright Lights” ends The Way Up with a track reminiscent, in its ambition if nothing else, of the title song. Banerjee and Folger author a definitive final statement for the collection that sustains the album’s high level of creative momentum to the last. It’s a winner for Reeya Banerjee and Luke Folger; there will be more to come.
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