The Foreign Exchange’s (TFE) ability to interact with their fans has been an integral part of their success. From Twitter, to their own mailing list, to their first “grassroots” concerts in NC, all members of TFE recognize the importance of viral videos and word of mouth recommendations. That’s why it was no surprise when I heard a while back of their plans to give a special concert for 40 friends and selected fans. Full disclosure: I mainly heard about this release ahead of time because I was one of the lucky few in attendance for the show.
Throughout their first 3 albums, especially the last 2, TFE has benefitted heavily from their fans ability to “put their friends on” their sound, music, and movement. Their fans, including myself, are known for their loyalty. We buy all the releases, download all downloads, share all the videos, and genuinely believe that TFE is one of the best groups making music now. TFE appreciates this, and it shows. They won’t hesitate to retweet your tweet, or answer your questions about a release or video you direct towards them in a timely manner. They give you the digital download of the release you purchased on the release date while your order of the physical copy is in the mail so you don’t miss out (perhaps the only group I know that does this!). If you are a vinyl head, they got you covered there too. It’s clear that their fans are important to them, and they understand that in today’s musical landscape it isn’t necessarily the number of sales you make or fans you have, but the depth of the relationship that you develop with those fans. Case in point is their recent “Dear Friends: An Evening with The Foreign Exchange” DVD/CD combo that hit iTunes and their own theforeignexchangemusic.com site on June 28th.
The release is excellent on two fronts. As a standalone CD, the sound quality for a live show is unparalleled. The acoustic setting, small group, and the fact it was recorded live in a sound studio (Sound Pure Studios in Durham, NC) makes the final recording robust in its own right. The real winner though, is obviously the DVD portion of the show. Very few artists release such intimate sets to the public, and most that you do see are filmed from a few tripod cameras in the back of the audience with great zoom.
Throughout the DVD, there are roving cameras. You catch angles of musicians you don’t normally see live. You catch angles of crowd members (look for me, I’m in there cheesin’ like a mahf***er on a few occasions), and candid moments of the performers themselves. The all-star cast of performers includes (but is not limited to) frequent collaborator Zo! on the keys, Sy Smith and Jeanne Jolly on backing vocals, and Chris Boerner on guitar.
While you won’t find any jams from “Connected” in the performance (would have loved to have heard “Sincere” or an acoustic version of “Be Alright” since Median was in the house), highlights from both “Leave It All Behind” and “Authenticity” shine. “Take Off The Blues” is instantly recognizable, and Sy Smith brings the house down in her help with Zo!’s “Greatest Weapon of All Time.” The group even covers a little James Taylor, with their unique yet gratifying take on “Something In The Way She Moves.” The best moment on film comes along with the previously-Grammy-nominated “Daykeeper,” a slow yet soulful jam reinvented with country hillbilly stylings almost on the spot. Combine that with a “chopped-and-screwed” fade-out that even your favorite Houston rapper would appreciate, and you have a bonafide gem.
If there’s anything to complain about, it’s wanting more material, as the set isn’t as long as a normal show. But that’s what the greatest entertainers do, always leave you wanting more, while at the same time being appreciative of what they’ve offered. The Foreign Exchange has mastered that relationship with their fans, delivering a product that is worth your hard-earned scratch.