Drew de F Fawkes [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

Did you know you can sing karaoke with artists like Ed Sheeran using the phone app called Smule? It’s amazing, so he sings part of his songs and then waits for you to sing. In the end, the recording syncs up him singing and you singing, and it actually looks like you were FaceTime karaoking with each other. I mean, I tried “Castle on the Hill” and was completely tone deaf, but for those few moments, it really felt like he was totally depending on me.

Ed Sheeran at 2012 Frequency Festival in Austria (7852625324)

That aside, Ed Sheeran, and his fabulous mop of red hair, has just released his 4th studio album, No.6 Collaborations Project. The album released yesterday, July 12, via Atlantic Records and Asylum Records. Yes, the two companies released it as a collaboration because, well, it IS a collaborative project, and Sheeran is known to work with multiple labels. He’s also known to go rogue and release his own album like he did with No.5 Collaborations Project, back in 2011. It landed as an EP and not a full studio album, but it included multiple EPs, so it’s a must for Sheeran fans if you don’t already have it on your shelf.

Multi-Talented Sheeran

These collaboration albums are further proof that Ed Sheeran could sing in pretty much every genre known to man: rock, pop, r&b, jazz, gospel, rap, seriously, everything except maybe reggae, although I’m sure he could make that work too. Whether Sheeran’s talents are your cup of tea or not, it’s safe to say he is one of the most versatile artists in the mainstream today, and he’s not just a singer/songwriter either. He’s really quite brilliant as a musician. In fact, he graduated from the Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford, England at the age of 18. How many of you were just starting your undergraduate career at the age of 18? Yep, that’s what I thought.

Back to the album, nearly all the reviews I have read since the release yesterday have been positive. If you’re a fan of Ed Sheeran, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. You’ll find “I Don’t Care,” which is the song where he pairs up with Justin Bieber. It is one of those songs all over the radio already, so I knew it prior to checking out this album. As a 38-year-old woman, liking songs by Bieber makes me feel weird, but this is one of those guilty pleasure songs for me and I’ll turn the volume up as high as I want, thank you very much! Yes, I am one of those people who totally rocks out in my car, pretending I know all of the words and drumming on the steering wheel.

Turn it up track

Another turn it up track on this album is the very first one which features Khalid. “Beautiful People” is a great intro track, because it’s such a fantastic song. It talks about the beautiful people with their designer clothes, but then questions that concept. The lyrics:

We don’t fit in well
‘Cause we are just ourselves

And

That’s not who we are
(We are, we are, we are)
We are not beautiful

To me, recognizing that we are who we are and that authenticity has nothing to do with fashion shows and designer clothes, well that whole concept is simply beautiful.

Hey! I have brown eyes and caramel thighs…maybe just the beautiful smile part? “South of the Border” with Camila Cabello and Cardi B is a dream song. This trio, seriously, if this song doesn’t make you want to move your hips, then I don’t know what will. It really is a perfect summer song for driving down to the beach or floating in the pool with your margarita.

Criticisms? Not really.

Now, there are a few critics of this album, but is it because the music isn’t good? Maybe, in their opinion, but I think it is more because Sheeran isn’t the shining star, at least not the only shining star. I don’t think he was aiming to be the shining star when he put this album together. I personally think the album strongly highlights the other collaborating artists. So, if Chance the Rapper and/or PnB Rock were not on your radar, then you might wonder what’s going on.

The track “Cross Me” is my least favorite on the album, it just doesn’t flow, it feels pieced together, it doesn’t feel like one cohesive song. “Cross Me” is one of the explicit songs on the album, along with “Remember the Name” which includes Eminem and 50 Cent. Maybe it’s my age showing again, but I like “Remember the Name” because I know Eminem and 50 Cent, also they ended up harmonizing really well in this track.

Embracing the Collabs

Perhaps the goal of a collaborative album is less about creating something cohesive and more about lifting other artists by offering them to a new set of listening ears. Would I have sought out Stormzy if I hadn’t heard him singing “Take Me Back to London” with Sheeran? Probably not, he wouldn’t have been on my radar. This worked out well for YEBBA, because one of my top three favorite tracks on this album is the collaboration which includes YEBBA. The song “Best Part of Me” tugged on my heart strings immediately. Who is this YEBBA? Her real name is Abbey Smith, and she’s a gospel singer from West Memphis, Arkansas who appears to be releasing music on a self-named music label.

“Feels” is a collaboration with Young Thug and J Hus. Young Thug has been all over the interwebs lately due to this collaboration and the ones he recently did with Post Malone and Little Nas X. I really like “Feels.” You might even say it gives me the feels. It’s true. My only complaint is that it is entirely too short. I mean, I’m getting my groove on and then it’s over. No bueno, I want more. Now J Hus is on that track which surprised a lot of people, just like his appearance at a Drake concert in April surprised a lot of people because he has just gotten out of jail after a four-month early release. Maybe this is J Hus showing the world that he’s back, climbing to the top and ready to take his career more seriously.

Another artist trying to make a new name for herself is Gabi Wilson, known professionally as H.E.R. She already has a following, but she earned it by gaining her stardom through Disney. We all know Disney stars have to transition at some point in their careers, and this seems to be what H.E.R. is doing right now. She is featured in the track “I Don’t Want Your Money,” and it’s a catchy track. She sings about not wanting someone’s money, just wanting their time, and I totally dig that concept. One thing you might like to know about Gabi Wilson aka H.E.R. is that she can basically play every instrument needed for a band. I mean, she has amazing vocals; she can play guitar, bass, and keyboard, but my girl also plays the harp and percussion.

And this is where we get BLOWn away

The album ends with “Way to Break My Heart” and “BLOW.” Skrillex collaborates in “Way to Break My Heart,” and it is a heart-breaking song, but with a super catchy beat. The only time it lost me was around the 2:40 mark when crazy mixing made me raise my eyebrows and wonder what the heck was going on, enough that I checked the exact timing.

And then we have “BLOW.” It’s at this point when we realize that Ed Sheeran can even be a glam rock, hair metal artist – and so can Bruno Mars and Chris Stapleton! This might be the most surprising track of the album. I didn’t think I would like it when it first started playing, because it is so obviously different, but damn if it didn’t become my top favorite track on this collaboration album. Around the 2:26 mark of the track, Stapleton goes into this wicked awesome guitar solo. It’s too short, but it highlights his talent, nonetheless.

So, if you haven’t listened yet, give it a try.

Come on, “Pull my trigger, let me blow your mind.”

The Instagrams

@travisscott @thegr8khalid @camila_cabello @iamcardib @chancetherapper @pnbrock @stormzy @yebbasmith @justinbieber @eminem @50cent @thuggerthugger1 @theuglygram @ellamai @paulolondra @santandave @hermusicofficial @meekmill @artisthbtl @skrillex @brunomars @chrisstapleton