(Released September 29th, 2017)
It’s been two years since Tamar Braxton released her fourth album “Calling All Lovers.” It seemed to be her best project up to that point – showing more artistic growth, and overall maturity than her previous effort “Love and War” – While the album isn’t perfect it does a great job of showing what Tamar is truly capable of. So when she announced that there would be a follow-up, I was excited. That announcement grew when news broke that this would be her final album – at least for the time being – in order to focus more on her marriage. We’ve heard something similar in the past from Toni Braxton but she eventually teamed back up with Babyface to release the Grammy award-winning album “Love, Marriage & Divorce,” and now Toni is now preparing for another album with her first single “Deadwood.” So clearly retirement isn’t a thing that The Braxton’s are keen on sticking to. But, will Tamar go out with a bang with “Bluebird of Happiness?”
“My Man” was the albums first single, immediately I was all ears. The song chronicles a love story gone wrong, drawing inspiration from her parents failed marriage following her father’s infidelity. The song is the embodiment of everything I love about Tamar’s music. When she’s singing a ballad there is almost no wrong that can be done, she can be as dramatic as possible but also tamed enough to where it isn’t all over the place. “Is this my life? It cuts me like a knife. To know the one I love could leave me for a friend” Papa Braxton say it ain’t so!
The majority of the ballads on the eleven track LP are winners. “Blind” is another song about infidelity in the same vein as “My Man,” but instead of leaving the other person she would rather turn a blind eye to the situation no matter how hurtful it is. The presence of what sounds like an organ, that immediately reminded me of a church, adds to the stripped down feel of the song. “How I Feel” is another good ballad but the best one on this album, even though it’s still a toss-up with ”Blind” and “My Man”, but the final track “Empty Boxes” was a great choice to close out the project. The imagery of someone who has nothing to offer you in a relationship being an empty box is simplistic, but in its simplicity, it’s quite profound. The opening verse “Empty boxes is all I ever get, just so grateful for the gift should’ve known by shaking it there was nothing there for me” plays into the idea of your initial intuition regarding a potential love interest not being the right one. The following lines “but to my surprise as the ribbon hit the floor I just truly couldn’t believe there was nothing underneath, don’t know what I was looking for” and “empty boxes can be so pretty to the eye, could be much lighter than you think, it will knock you off your feet to know it was all a lie” is the result of not listening to your first mind expecting, and wanting, to be wrong. I couldn’t ask for a better ballad to close out the album.
“Heart In My Hands” is okay, but doesn’t leave a memorable impression like the other ballads did, The same can be said for “The Makings of You.” Granted the song isn’t about being cheated on but something isn’t quite right. I’m not sure if the sample of Gladys Knight & The Pips’ version of “The Makings of You” is too slow or if it’s the surrounding production that doesn’t compliment the sample, but something is just off, I could be nitpicking but if that was fixed the song would be one of my favorites.
The album isn’t entirely ballads, however. “Wanna Love You Boy” became an instant favorite out of the few mid-tempo tracks. My only complaint is that it’s too short. It ends right under the three-minute mark so as soon as a nice jig is established, it’s over. The same goes for “Pick Me Up,” it’s impossible to go wrong when sampling “Love Come Down” but once again it clocks in under three minutes. So right when you really start feeling it is when it’s coming to an end.
There are three songs, in my opinion, that fall completely short. “My Forever,” “Run Run,” and “Hol’ Up.” The album opener “My Forever” could’ve been left off the album entirely while letting “Wanna Love You Boy” replace it as the introduction of the project. “Run Run” samples Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam” but unfortunately doesn’t do the song justice, it’s definitely the albums “Angels and Demons.” The most lackluster of them all is by far “Hol’ Up.” The track features two verses from rapper Yo Gotti, honestly, I don’t remember what he said but there was a mention of a wraith, which I’m assuming he brought to China to race in China but the way my bank account is set up it won’t allow me to comprehend any further. The rest of the track, just like the feature verses, is forgettable.
As a whole, “Bluebird of Happiness” while having some really strong moments, is a disappointment. It’s as though Tamar took three steps back when it came to her artistry. If I had the ability to swap its place with “Calling All Lovers” I would do exactly that; there was so much progress and promise after the 2015 release that one could only imagine her going nowhere but up from that point on. This project is branded as her fifth and final release but instead of going out with a bang it’s a mere light tap on the shoulder. I’m still confused by the backpedaling but at the same time can find much satisfaction with the multiple songs I truly enjoy. One thing that can’t be taken away from Tamar is that voice. Over the years she’s done a great job of showing rather than telling when it comes to her music and that’s something that I appreciate and respect. Even though at times she’s struggled with more mid/uptempo attempts in the past (i.e. “One On One Fun,” “Tip Toe,” “Run Run,” etc.) she’s continued growing to eventually churn out songs like “Catfish,” “Must Be Good To You,” “Wanna Love You Boy,” and even the Future assisted “Let Me Know.” Where she has shown weakness in those areas she’s always delivered when I came to more stripped down productions “All The Way Home,” “Stay and Fight,” “Broken Record,” “King,” “Blind,” “My Man,” “Empty Boxes,” etc. are all examples of Tamar’s greatness. I do suggest checking out the album if you haven’t done so already, and if there’s a slight chance that Tamar will return with another LP in the future I’m very hopeful that we’ll get something brilliant.