For the cover story of Philadelphia Weekly‘s October 6 issue, Tara Murtha writes a feature on Philadelphia singer Res (real name Shareese Ballard). Res met with modest success a decade ago, when her album How I Do garnered her mainstream attention, including video airplay on VH1 Soul, a contract that paid her living expenses while she toured and recorded, and that gave her the pick of the musicians she worked with
The essence of this story Res’s return to Philadelphia and her transition into an indie artist, and the peg is a monthlong Sunday-night residency Res is doing at Silk City in Northern Liberties. The piece is also set against the general implosion of the music industry. Her first album was out on MCA, which was absorbed by Geffen, and although she survived the transition, other, bigger artists were given priority despite Res’s selling 300,000 copies of How I Do. Her second album wasn’t released at all, although downloads of Black.Girls.Rock! can be easily found.
Still, Res has some profile, according to Murtha’s article. She toured with Gnarls Barkley, singing backup on the tour to support their first album, and Murtha’s article opens with Res onstage with Idle Warship, a collaboration with Talib Kweli, one of the most respected MCs in hip hop, and Canadian cross-genre artist Graph Nobel, who is less well-known but has popped up here and there in the scene.
While there are some interesting and sometimes tangential nuggets – Res’s early songwriting partner was Santigold, aka Santi White, who, much to my surprise, turns out to be disgraced Philadelphia political-insider Ron White‘s daughter – and Murtha does offer a lot of context for the points mentioned above, the piece seems to sag in the middle.
At one point, 44 graphs of nothing but Murtha’s and Res quotations exist between any other sources. This evinces two problems.
First, the article is not terribly well-sourced: Murtha quotes from interviews with Res, Rita Cavell (an early teacher of Res), Bruce Warren of WXPN (to give context for Res’s first album), Denise Ballard (Res’s mother), and DJ Aura (a fan at a recent concert). Their quotes are few, and don’t contribute a tremendous amount to a 3,300-word article.
Second, Murtha burns a number of Res quotations on quotidian matters. About Santigold: “‘I called her and she was like, “Yeah we should write songs together,”‘ Res says. ‘So that turned into my staying in Brooklyn every weekend that summer.'” On the album delay: “‘It wasn’t until I was done with my album and mixing it and realized they weren’t doing the necessary steps into putting this album out.'” More on the album delay: “‘[The label execs] said, “You left the label but you [can’t] take your music with you.”‘”
My point here is that this article could easily be tightened by 1,000 words. But then what will fill that space? PW does many things well, but there’s really only the room—and I’d assume, the budget—for one feature per issue, as the paper is formatted these days. And this article is an example of something PW‘s had a problem with for a while, especially in bigger culture features: articles are reasonably well-researched, but need deeper sourcing and are too loose. Talib Kweli’s working with Res? His imprimatur still matters: try to get him on the phone! You cite label heads? Call ’em up! The worst thing that happens is that Ron Fair, the former head of Geffen, doesn’t return your calls.
Nevertheless, Murtha does a pretty solid job of illustrating the career of an artist about whom I new little. I just want to see more, that’s all.
– Nick Gilewicz