Raury's new album, Fervent, is a short, 30–minute excursion into folk that burns with a muted passion, apt for the album's name. Raury, the newly–independent singer–songwriter, rapper, guitarist, and producer, has collaborated with the likes of Chance the Rapper, Jaden Smith, and Joey Bada$$. On his latest effort, he takes a sharp turn from the fleshed out folk–rap of his 2015 major label debut, All We Need, into simple, spaced–out, acoustic folk. Taken as a whole, Fervent sounds less like a collection of individual songs but more like a potent mix that captures a certain mood: burning desire that crackles quietly across the eight tracks.
Despite its low–key, almost austere presentation, this album is a big moment in Raury's career. Having left Columbia Records and his management company LVRN early last year, he founded his own label, The Woods, through which he released the new album.
In an interview from last year, Raury bemoaned the lack of true connection between the artist and the fans when record labels intervene as the middle man. "These fans are not having fun. The artist may love the fans, but the management and label don't," he said, "So the relationship between the fan and artist is built like god and worshipper when it should be artist serving the people."
His concerts nowadays are rarely onstage. Now, he invites his fans to "COME TO THE WOODS," as his promotional posters blare. There, he plays stripped down versions of his discography with just a guitar and his voice, nothing between himself and the audience.
Raury is creating—through his aesthetic and self–presentation—a modern–day Woodstock revival, more concerned with community than profit. It's not hard to picture him soulfully belting out highlights like "Rubi" and "Leviathan" on a cold Autumn evening among the trees.
Fervent most potently captures this fundamental, anti–capitalist earthiness on its penultimate track, "Willow," a sorrowful, guitar–picked ballad addressed to an ex–lover. Out of all the songs on the album, the emotion on "Willow"—a tart regret—is most palpable. Raury, a pucker in his delicate voice, croons "I met you in the high school hall," before he stops singing. He keeps playing the guitar and we hear a sniffle. Then, Raury finishes the verse: "I met you in the high school hall, when I was going through withdrawals."
It's enough, on first listen, to think that this was a mistake. But, upon repeated listens, you quickly realize that this emotional "mistake" is purposeful. "Willow" touches that certain kind of banal sadness any high school student can relate to. For an artist who is already so determined to be transparent, "Willow" takes that transparency to the next level. Raury is bearing his soul in such a painfully honest way, only the most cynical of listeners wouldn't cry with him. He ends the track on a somber, humble note: "No one ever chooses me."
Fervent is almost perfectly paced, with the feel–good closer "Cherry Blossom" appropriately picking up where "Willow" left off. Like the rest of the album, its led by an acoustic guitar and Raury's voice. Its a bittersweet goodbye to his ex–lover, who can "call [him] anytime." But one gets the sense that this offer applies to the listener as well.
Raury's career path up until this point is the reverse of the rags–to–riches story. Raury caught the attention of Columbia early in his career, only to leave it for the streets—or the woods—where he started. Fervent, in a sense, is protest music, a resistance against the music industry and the hands that control it, and the modern notion of how a musician should succeed in the world.