American Opera is one of the most overlooked artists in the music community, in my opinion. Small Victories shows just what John Bee, the mastermind behind American Opera, is capable of.
The album begins on its title track, a strong folk-anthem song, and maybe AO’s best song, with a beautiful yet simple intro of just vocals and guitar. The horns and drums that come in around the 30 second mark create a feeling that makes you know this album is going to take you on a ride. The track reminds you to take and appreciate every “small victory” you get. “Sailor’s Song” provides great competition for “Small Victories” as best American Opera song. The track is about feeling abandoned and longing for your adventurous past, “Hoping for one more chance to sail along.” The song’s metaphor relating himself with an old boat, is almost as great as the bridge where two separate layers of Bee’s vocals overlap is beautiful. Track four, “Monsters Among Men,” is almost like a coming of age tale as it talks of growing older and losing faith, questioning the existence of god, especially when faced with various hardships in life, including when “my best friend took his life,” “a madman took my brother’s with a knife,” and the Sandy Hook shooting. This is also where the album makes a darker, sadder turn. The very next song, “Michael,” is the most emotional song on Small Victories. You can hear the pain in Bee’s voice as he sings “From baseball cards to cigarettes / A childhood filled with happiness” and “You gave your all, you stood so tall / But every tree will fall” about losing someone close to him. “An Empty Cup” continues the somber tone, telling of empty promises. The penultimate song on the record, “Farewell,” is sure to bring a tear to even the strongest person’s eye. Bee’s song writing is so poetic in this ode to a late friend, the last stanza, “Your father beamed with pride about you / Every word tore us apart / Your mom and sister sat in silence / Holding hands with hurting heart” is the real kicker on the album for me, Bee’s voice echoing those words around my head. Each song on Small Victories is so unique to itself and makes each track stand out, whether on its own or with the album, and I love that. I already know this is an album I’ll keep coming back to years and years from now.
Overall: Small Victories is an emotional ride from start to end, as American Opera takes you through the ups and downs of life and death.
Review by Shane Haley