Bar Exam: Dusty Marshall – “Beauty In The Struggle” (Album)
A One Listen Review
Dusty Marshall’s album “Beauty In The Struggle” was dropped into the inbox a few weeks ago. This is a concept album of testimony and redemption centered around some heavy topics. The cover art is a picture of a baby with the words “Beauty In The Struggle” scribed in the upper left corner. The art is appealing and well done, and might be a slight nod to Notorious B.I.G.’s “Ready To Die” art.
Track One is called “BITS Intro” and begins well. This is a good beat with intricate rhymes. At first blush Dusty’s tone isn’t the most appealing. For what it is though this track is solid, it’s a true introduction to the concepts that will be presented on the album.
Redemption And Testimony
“The Light” is a well mixed track with good samples. This is a song of redemption, somewhat of a testimony. Dusty comes in on the hook here with distortion on his voice and it threw me off. There’s so much passion in his voice throughout these verses, vulnerability is key here. When this extra stuff is added to his voice it makes the song disingenuous. This is another solid track, we just have some strange creative direction on this hook.
Track 3 features IllumiNate, and is a mish-mosh of a lot of different things. The top of the song has a gospel vibe with a choir singing “Oooo”, then the layers peel off to just one vocalist, then the layers come back and the choir sings the hook. I feel like we’re trying to do too much here, let’s go straight to a full hook. So now there’s a rap rock feel to it, all while keeping gospel ad-libs throughout. It’s too much for me. Dusty has a decent flow here, reminiscent of TobyMac with this particular music bed.
BITS (skit) brings us a heartbreaking diagnosis from a Doctor. It talks about the Marshall’s baby and how she has spina bifida and other defects. This heavy topic takes us into the next song.
Track 5 is the title track, Beauty In The Struggle. Another good mix appealing to the ear. Dusty tells their story, and oftentimes forsakes rhyme schemes for content. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, not everything needs to rhyme and he owns it.
“Clarity of mind when my wife and I are questioning/I can tell her without a doubt in my body there’s purpose in the storm/just trust in you to see it through/God knew what he was doing when he chose us/bless us with a daughter to show us what true love is/“
I thought it was a good touch to bring another snippet of the Doctor telling them how there were no heart defects. After that though, they lost me. I get the idea of having Krystal come back for a worshipful moment, and I was good up to the first “mommy and daddy love you,” but after that I felt like the song got deeply personal and exclusive. The song doesn’t even stop there, after Krystal sings we hear a baby’s heartbeat. The ending of this song was over the top for me. It’s an emotional song anyway, so these extra elements went a few steps farther than most listeners would want to go.
“Deep Blue” is a song about fishing for men and following Christ no matter what it is that you may face. Again the music vibes are just fine, but there’s delays on some of the vocals and extra production tricks that don’t really need to be there.
“Soul Glow” comes in with heavy hi hats, strings and brass. It’s a solid beat but it’s a little dated for me. The hook on this track is below the bar, but this performance is tight. It’s a seamless performance with tight rhymes. Hope Shorter is the feature here and is solid as well.
Track 8 is called “Rest My Soul” and has a straight up old school feel to it. Dusty fits this vibe extremely well. Krystal’s voice is too forward in the mix here, but other than that this is the best all around track on the album. Topically he’s talking about addiction, but ultimately resting in God alone. “He alone is my salvation/I won’t be shaken.”
“Forever You’re Loved is another cool beat. It’s got a token West Coast vibe with it. Probably the most progressive beat on the project. Dusty is gifted at telling stories, and does it well throughout this project. His writing is strong here, and he stays on topic which can be hard to do. While his voice is easy to understand, the tone of his voice can be a distraction at times. I think it’s just the places where certain words are enunciated. I’d be fascinated to hear how he speaks in real life and find how close his speaking voice is to his performing voice.
We finish off the project with the tenth track, “Fallen.” It’s a simple instrumental all around with an easy drum sample but good layers of organs and great choices with vocal layers. The music vibes of this song are above the bar. With the strongest parts of this project happening at the end, the entire albums serves as a giant crescendo. I feel like the best stuff is all here at the end if you’ve been able to hold attention for long enough. One thing I’d say about this last track though, is that once more we’re lead down a path that maybe we didn’t need to go. Dusty is sharing here at the end of the album about his brother passing away. I feel like this is a different path than I was ready to go to close out the project, and it would have been fine to not have tis part at the end.
The job I have when I review music is to be as objective as possible, and label things as “good” or “not good.” There’s another layer to that when speaking about CHH, because music is ministry. My review doesn’t validate Dusty’s ministry or anyone’s that I review for that matter. The Holy Spirit is who will move in these stories and in the personal touch Dusty is able to give to people who need to hear the word of God. I’m just here to encourage the music side of things, and ministry will happen regardless.
There was a huge slump for me on this album, from tracks 3-7. The title track tried to end the slump earlier, but honestly it wore me out. The album’s overall music vibes were at the bar and trending up. I did like some of these beats. The performances were a bit under the bar in spots, while the writing was at the bar. The creative direction throughout needs some work and was under the bar. The issue I had here was the heaping on of emotional manipulation. I’m left questioning if all of the doctor snippets, the “mommy and daddy love you” interlude and the heartbeat all needed to be in the same place. For a concept album, maybe those things could be sprinkled throughout in order to give the listener a break. Also, throwing in these thoughts on Dusty’s brother at the end deviates from what one would perceive to be the main “struggle” up until the very last moment of the record. That sudden change could have been dealt with elsewhere as well. This for me is an instance of “show, don’t tell.” The stories of Dusty’s daughter were strong enough, I’m not sure we needed another tough issue to deal with. Looking at the whole piece, there’s probably not a track I would return to here either. While I feel like there are some things that were well done and I appreciate the overall work, it just misses the mark for me.
Overall Rating – Below The Bar