Carol Bui – Everyone Wore White

Carol Bui
Everyone Wore White

Washington, DC’s Carol Bui shows a few different sides of her personality on Everyone Wore White, her second solo album. As the principal songwriter, guitar player, and singer, she’s had her hands full. But she has brought in some key players to help realize her vision for the album.

There are a few things about the album that separate it from other solo records. While some artists feel content to fill their records with same-y, lazy compositions and playing, Carol shows range and versatility. She pretty much doesn’t bother with rhymes, either, where others would force couplets that were better left penciled through. Her guitar playing could be characterized as non-standard, too, even though you’ll hear some blues influences on this indie-rock record. Her choice of unusual time signatures, again, go against the pedestrian. Finally, her vocals are strong, clear, and emotive.

You can listen to almost any cut on the CD to be impressed with her voice. Vocally, “Call From Bangkok” stays relatively plaintive, “1” goes from melancholy to soaring, and “EOL” sounds longing. Along the way, the guitar chords and note choices will strike you as unusual even while they’re not radically different than other lines you know. “The Year After” has chords that sound almost accidental. In the context of the album, though, what you come to realize is that the vaguely unfamiliar reflects intention.

The rhythm section sounds comfortable and unobtrusive. Even when their playing is out of the ordinary, it’s made to sound of a piece with the song. Try “Quan Am” for example. Its the high-point song that brings together compositional elements expressed elsewhere into a riveting whole. There’s an exotic and disorienting mood and attitude to the track, augmented by singing that covers a variety of moods and guitar playing that goes from gentle to raucous.

While autobiography runs deep here on Everyone Wore White, “St. Elizabeth’s” and “Rockville” probably most exemplify this tendency. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether Carol means to make greater points about life through her observations and recollections. Otherwise, it’s in some ways a little odd to simply tell a childhood story (witness “We walked together to my bus stop / And I wore that stained shirt twice in a row”) but I suppose the literal hear means to convey something more involved and universal.

The album closes with the a capella “Qua Cau Gio Bay,” a traditional Vietnamese song. It’s a stark tribute perhaps to who she is, but it might also just be another chance for her to demonstrate her beautiful voice. An unexpected choice? On Everyone Wore White, you have to adjust your expectations because brave choices mark these songs one to the next.