Some of you may remember last summer when I posted an EP by the name of “Triumph” by a Mr. Darius Mines. Well now he’s back again, this time accompanied by Rivers Taylor and Clarence Cartwright to compose the Pop/Soul band Uncommon Ground. Attending school with all three here at ODU I’ve seen the group perform numerous times, a majority of the songs being originals by Darius. Now they actual band has released a project and we get to see the depth of the group as a whole. Without further ado, here’s my review of Uncommon Ground’s Lifted EP.
Just The Way You Are – Immediately you are drawn into the melody and up-tempo rhythm of this song. The vocal contrast is the very next thing your ears gravitate to. The harmonies are enthralling, exciting, and the lack of auto-tune is refreshing. I cannot stress the harmonies enough. Being able to hear each individual vocalist in a time where boy bands, like NBA teams are ran through one “star” it’s almost weird to hear 3 unique voices being able to harmonically blend like they do. The mix sounds very raw, giving you the feel of actually sitting in the booth the band while they’re recording. If new listeners don’t become fans instantly from listening then they’re deaf. The vocal arranging is just superb, I wonder if they layered the tracks to give it such richness. The lyrics, about simply loving someone for who they are, are simple yet clever and the chorus is catchy and almost hypnotizing. This is a track that non-singers probably attempt while in the shower. I also enjoyed the production on this, specifically drummer Elasah Rogers.
Tell You – featuring Wikes & Cello Figaro – DRUMS, DRUMS, DRUMS! This track knocks, especially in headphones. Unlike the previous track, this is more pop sounding and the production doesn’t seem as organic but it’s still well produced. The chime-like synths add an airy feel to the whole track. I’m not really a fan of the vocals on the chorus. One because I just don’t like how they sound & two because again unlike Track 1, it sounds like one voice. I do enjoy Darius’ verse though, short but again very witty. The highlight of the song is the verse from Wikes. His voice is very different, distinct. It being put in the middle of the song was a great idea as well as it adds a new flavor after hearing a similar voice in both the chorus and verse then a rapper in Cello Figaro at the end. His verse is also cleverly written and the harmonies toward the end are very reminiscent of 90s R&B. Cello finishes off with a very solid verse. Sometimes rappers try to hard on “love songs” but Figaro stays in his lane. He’s able to really get the most out of his flow on the beat has some nice lines like “She wanna see the world / I been toured”.
Take It Slow – This song reverts the EP back to that organic, MTV Unplugged feel. I’d heard this song performed several times live so when I recognized the tune I was pleasantly surprised. This is a nice song. The simplistic and short verses, in my opinion, are the groundwork for the chorus which appears to be the main focus of the song. Telling someone you like, admire, love, how you feel but reminding them that there’s no rush and you two can “take it slow”. The real gem of this track lies in the pre-chorus, in particular the line “my hands to piano keys / your hands when they touch me / it’s love I know”. I love that line because it’s pretty deep if you think about it. Musicians love music and they display that love by playing or singing or writing, showing their love through touch. So while the musician touches the keys, their significant other touches them, representing how like the piano to the musician, he/she is the instrument of love to that person. I hope that makes sense lol. The electric guitar solo by Andrew Piland was also a nice touch, people love guitar solos.
Call Me featuring Cartwright – This song really leaves you wanting more, particularly because I’ve heard Clarence Cartwright sing before and this song doesn’t really do him justice. I would have loved to hear him and Darius exchange higher notes or even just stronger vocals on a bridge, which would have also kept it from sounding so short. Another aspect of the song I really wasn’t feeling was the chorus. I don’t know if was the range it was sung in or the mixing or what but if sounds really muffled and muddy. It makes an already un-catchy hook and song even more skip-able. The verses are okay though and unless that number’s fake Darius can expect a LOT of phone calls.
Do It All featuring India Tyree – This song is everybody’s nightmare. Being so enthralled in your work that you no longer have time for the people you love. At the same time, it is a reality especially for musicians. This track goes where very few on this subject goes by giving us both sides of this dilemma through verses from both Darius and featured singer India Tyree. Both artist’s vocals fit so well over the mello instrumentation and this song also displays great harmonies that have become an overwhelming theme in the project. India’s voice is not only beautiful but also a nice airy twist to a project that for obvious reasons has been dominated with lower register voices. The tone of her voice is very smooth and jazz-like. I’ve heard in live and she has a lot more power in her lungs but the subtly of this verse has a soothing texture to go along with a verse that encourages her other that she’s supports their dreams.
Change of Season – This is perhaps the best writing on the entire project. I really enjoyed this track. The play on words and using the seasons and months to describe the ending of a relationship was brilliant. It’s also one of the deeper tracks on the project. I think the chorus could have be phrased better but it’s still good. The verses kinda throw me off though just because of the mixing. The first verse is almost too airy and quiet and the “telephone” effect used in the second is a little too much and almost takes away from the beauty of the piece. The bridge is gold though. From the breakdown production-wise, to the actual words and execution it’s the best part of this song. “I have fallen for you like leaves that die every November / so i will be gone, I froze my heart, poured salt on those wounds / and waited on your heart to thaw, with the fire of love / and the burn of your kiss, nobody said was love was like this”, genius.
There Are Times featuring Rivers Taylor – I’m a little biased to this song, one because I’m cool with Rivers and he’s just a dope person and two because he’s actually one of my favorite singers. Like “Call Me” though this song leaves you wanting & expecting more. It’s really short, only 1:06 and consists of a verse and chorus that again don’t really display the full capacity of his vocals. It samples a famous (maybe the most famous) Bobby Caldwell song during the chorus, which proves to be one of the better sounding choruses on the project. It’s a nice song and is one that many will hope to be extended.
Haircut – This was the lead single to Lifted and I must admit I wasn’t feeling it when it first dropped. It wasn’t until I sat and listened did I realize that this song has a really nice (maybe powerful) message. A haircut can be a revitalizing experience and serve as the ending & beginning of something new like the female described in this song has. The ONE thing, the ONLY thing not to like about this song (and really other songs on the project and previous projects from Darius) is how his (their?) falsetto is mixed. Much like Chris Brown’s “Fine China”, though not to the extreme of that track, the falsetto comes in and almost doesn’t feel natural. It completely disrupts the zone you’re put in by the track. Aside from that, this is sure to be a fan favorite if not already.
As a singer myself, I look artists like Uncommon Ground who I not only know personally, but also admire because of their knowledge and experience. I like this EP. It’s great to see the band as an actual entity and not just a “house band” or a backing to Darius. In its entirety, it is a great viewing of individual, and collective talent and also a glimpse at just how much potential this group really has. I wish them all the best.
This EP gets 7 out of 10 stars or 5 drum solos. You can find this EP on the group’s Bandcamp.