For a jazz-pop band named “Sammy Rae & The Friends,” who call their fans “Friends” and include an unreleased track called “We Wanna Be Friends With Ya” in each live performance, Let’s Throw A Party is the perfect EP title. Like a real life party, it is filled with moments felt in the hips and moments to unleash what’s in the heart. However, also like a party, it is overwhelming at times, trying to do too much in one space.
This EP introduces listeners to a new side of Sammy (Samantha Bowers), one a bit more vulnerable and emotional. Unlike more bouncy songs off of her first EP like “The Feeling” and “Kick It to Me,” some of the singles off of the new EP dramatically expose her scrapes and bruises. While not possessing the same “feel-good” sound she became beloved for, the honesty of “Jackie Onassis” and “Living Room Floor” fills the listener up, pouring a combination of love and gut-wrenching insecurity through the earbuds.
“Jackie Onassis,” a genuine coming-of-age track about Bowers loving a woman, eschews any sort of trope that these descriptors might bring to mind. Building up to a fight Bowers got into as a young woman, the song leaves you with goosebumps. It makes good use of the whole band’s big sound (particularly the horns) to culminate in an emotional release, sounding tender and forceful all at once. When Bowers riffs exuberantly after singing “look at that lady,” it feels like the way we talk incessantly about those we are in love with.
Meanwhile, “Living Room Floor” makes its point using cuttingly emotional lyrics like “I am in my own lane / I will not let myself down / I am in my own place / I am my own house.” They clearly come from the root of her being. The ballad is driven by the piano and by the chorus of “woahs” heard in the background. The voices joining hers feel like friends coming to your aid in times of need — listening to Sammy and her Friends, you know you are never alone. This deeply contemplative track is new territory for Bowers’s released material. She pulls it off reasonably well, except for a weak ending that closes a powerful track too quickly.
With “Whatever We Feel” and “Creo Lo Sientes (feat. C-BASS),” she moves into more familiar territory. The former song does so brilliantly, emphasizing Bowers’s flexible voice with a sparse band arrangement. Band members cheer and laugh in the background, creating an almost concert-like feel, an environment missed these days by performers and fans alike.
With lyrics like “It’s whatever we feel / Whatever we wanna do,” it’s easy to throw your hands into the air and laugh because you feel like it. Meanwhile, “Creo Lo Sientes” falls flat. It’s a fun tune but doesn’t feel pulled together enough to be catchy, as her other tunes do. The Latin groove captures the bubbly, simple feeling of walking into a party and seeing someone that makes parts other than your hips shake. It’s done very conversationally, bringing you right into the storyline as she talks with the drummer from her band and her best friend “C-BASS.” The tune is danceable but doesn’t highlight her talent, nor is it particularly memorable.
The last track “Let’s Throw A Party!” makes a somewhat unfortunate attempt at capturing the entirety of the EP in one closing piece. Bowers and her music shine best when she carries the tune — often one that, while she puts little variations on it with every verse, is consistent enough so as to be easy to sing along to. In this one, the melody is switched up, with the band occasionally overpowering Bowers, that it feels as though something is getting lost. But then again, this is also the band fulfilling their definition of “friends” and coming together in a wash of music, jamming together and existing presently in the music, instead of just supporting Bowers.
They might have met more success with this (and seemed less overwhelming) had they done it in a song that had stuck to one or two messages. The song, at five minutes, tries to introduce too many tones in one song — dancing, dramatic, emotional, existential. The best part comes from 1:02 to about the three-minute mark, as Bowers revels in her existence.
You can almost feel her spinning around to the song. However, the song disappointingly ends with panic about growing old, using phrases such as “fighting for time / finding what’s mine.” It feels like sentimentality tacked on in a last-minute ploy for emotion. It’s too much.
In these pandemic times, Let’s Throw A Party is a somewhat shocking title for a piece and yet is not guilty of insensitivity. In typical Sammy Rae style, it brings the party with it.
The exuberant horns, encouraging chorus of backup singers and, above all, Bowers’s buoyant, exhilarated singing give you a 20-minute escape into a world where dancing with friends is still a possibility.
Daily Arts Writer Rosa Sofia Kaminski can be reached at email@example.com.