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Review: Stacy Barthe, 'BEcoming'

Stacy Barthe's new album, <em>BEcoming, </em>comes out July 10.
Courtesy of the artist
Stacy Barthe's new album, BEcoming, comes out July 10.

Stacy Barthe's debut album, BEcoming, is all about brutal, fearless honesty. Having already written songs for a string of modern R&B and pop stars, Barthe first began to break through as a headliner in 2013, as she surfaced on lists of artists to watch and, ultimately, the year's best music. Barthe flashes a brilliant smile in interviews, but BEcoming quickly makes it clear that a long and bumpy road has led her to this spot.

/ album cover
album cover

BEcoming opens at its darkest point: with a track called "My Suicide Note." Over portentous strings, she depicts a real-life attempt to end it all. From there, Barthe moves on to the Afrobeat stylings of "In My Head," an R&B jewel that addresses mental illness, followed by a string of melancholy but harmony-rich songs that shrewdly chronicle Barthe's climb out of deep depression. Her approach is restrained at times, but in "Find It," the emotions spill out as she longs for a new way of life.

Soon, though, BEcoming's brighter second act kicks in with the heavy bassline of "Live For Today." With the aid of Chicago rapper Common, the song heralds the arrival of light at the end of a cavernous tunnel. Over midtempo percussion, Barthe chants, "Take a walk out on this limb / And even if chances are slim / You won't die before you hit the ground / You'll fly."

At 17 songs, BEcoming is weighed down by the sheer heft of its subject matter, but when taken as a whole, it feels like a powerful and necessary purge. It's not a "happily ever after" kind of record so much as one dedicated to the idea of "to be continued" — and, hearing Barthe joyfully belt out "Born To Belong," it's hard not to be grateful for that.

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Bobby Carter is a leader on the Tiny Desk Concerts team for NPR Music. He's brought an ever growing roster of big names and emerging artists through NPR's HQ to squeeze behind the desk of All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen and record standout performances, including Usher, Mac Miller, Noname, Anderson.Paak and H.E.R.