Single Review: Slowly by Prabir Trio
Fallen leaves are accumulating on forest floors and roadsides. A turbulent campaign has yielded a new president-elect. Google docs are filling up with lists of favorite 2020 songs and albums. As a year that seems destined for infamy comes to a close, now is a time of culmination. And the song released over the weekend by Prabir Mehta’s eponymous trio in honor and celebration of Diwali feels like culmination captured perfectly in sonic form.
The song grew out of a trip Mehta took to India a few years ago, when his grandmother was near the end of her life. “I had a great conversation with her on my last day in India about the pace of life,” he recalls in the notes that accompany the song’s video. “She wished I could visit more often, I wished I could too, but explained how life and work keeps things busy and how quickly work must be done to stay ahead and growing. She said not all things should be done and in Gujarati told me that she would love me slowly because it’s not something she wishes to rush.”
Mehta has taken that promise and built around it a powerful and episodic articulation. “Slowly” unfurls at a pace that’s true to its name, with an unhurried opening half that walks you through the song’s musical and emotional wellsprings. Tanpura. Sitar. Electric guitar. Emotive swells courtesy of the Trio’s drummer, Kelli Strawbridge. And words that pinpoint the moment of inspiration he experienced at his grandmother’s side:
Take every single word
Turn it into thought
Put in a song and
Turn it into love
Please don’t apologize
No one here was late
Everybody knows that
Life is leaving us behind
I’m in awe of how far he travels in those two stanzas, starting with the particulars of the creative process and growing outward to encapsulate a lifetime’s worth of earned wisdom. The passage is profoundly graceful. Then, as if it were on its own journey from one place to another, “Slowly” arrives at its second form, a rock song that brings Mehta’s well-honed abilities as a band leader to bear.
I’ve always enjoyed Mehta’s singing, whether in this trio, with Goldrush, or when he’s channeling Tom Petty as the vocalist for tribute band Full Moon Fever, but his vocals here are nothing short of masterful. From blown out high notes to the depths of his considerable range and expertly executed harmonization throughout (with an assist from the always-outstanding Kenneka Cook), Mehta puts on a clinic, lending an extra degree of gravity to “Slowly” that another singer might not have been able to access.
The vocal performance is certainly one reason the song hits so hard, and Russell Lacy’s bass and production both do a beautiful job of helping all the elements cohere, but it’s the meeting of message and messenger that makes this song so moving. “I did have a chance to speak with my grandmother one more time on the phone before she passed,” Mehta continued in the video’s liner notes. “I told her I was using her line in the song. She laughed, imagine being in your 80’s in India and having a lyric end up in a rock song in America.” As unlikely as that pathway may seem, this feels like a song that needed to be. One that required everything that came before it, and that puts the pieces of the past and present next to one another in exactly the way they were meant to be assembled.
Words of love, turned into song, arriving at exactly the right moment.