Celebrating his one year anniversary of freedom this past Tuesday in NYC, John Forté picked a classy venue to hold his latest reunion with the music world after serving seven of his 14 years on drug charges before being pardoned by George W. Bush. Honestly, the man simply looked happy to be able to relax and play some music for an audience. In the past year John released an album that has been in the works for seven years, written while on house arrest as an attempt to raise money for his defense. I don’t care who you are, that is some MEAN pressure. If I were him, I’d have been throwing down Beyoncé dance moves and praying for a single. Joining him onstage was folk musician Ben Taylor, friend and advocate to John during his prison time.
The two planned to play a set of unrehearsed material, including tunes off of both of their latest discographies. To this end, the night turned out to be a concert succeeding on the basis of contrasts. Ben’s slow southern drawl combined with Forté’s clean spoken rap and raspy singing voice. John’s well dressed appearance versus Taylor’s dirty demeanor. Ben’s comedically off-kilter material and John’s heartfelt tributes. The list goes on, but the end remains the same; John’s smooth rap adds intriguing rhythmic tension to Ben’s relaxed sing-song musicality. Even so, Forté demands that he be thought of as a “singer/songwriter who knows how to rap,” as he believes a transformation has occurred within himself. Thus, the night was filled with raspy ballads sung with heartfelt emotion. In conjunction with Taylor, the contrast was delightful, but by himself, it sounds like Forté has a ways to go. —Eric N Sandler