Friday, February 29, 2008

Reviews:: Ben Rogers

On the surface, Vancouver's Ben Rogers shouldn't be an artist that grabbed me so easily. I mean, he sings slow burning epic delicate country folk songs with a comfortable warble and some tried and true subject matter. When you consider I'm trying to digest the new Plants & Animals and Hilotrons records and working with Shane to pick songs for the New Brunswick compilation project, it's shocking to me that Ben's soon-to-be released record is the one increasing in play count.

But really, it only takes a few listens to see how this relatively unknown artist achieves traction. The record opens with the epic track The Dealer. The familiar strum of an acoustic and a harmonica open the track and Ben starts telling his story in a dusty, low voice. Even though all the elements (even the title) seem like something you've heard before, Ben's narrative about a drug dealer is a modern twist on the old equation. Sure his drawl, vocab and ability to turn a phrase - "I guess I could change, but a crooked gun don't shoot straight" - really make this seem like a story that could have been told years ago, but when you get into the tale of a remorseful man talking about how he hooks the people who have nowhere left to turn, you can almost see the him lurking on the corner of Main and Hastings.

After catching Rogers play Tuesday night, I compared him to Roger Dean Young but on record his voice and style doesn't really fit the comparison. His stories, although gritty, are told with surprising clarity and precision. While RDY uses a hazy, clouded mix of sounds and textures, Ben's voice stands front and center. Even when he shifts into a more Dylan-esque folk track like The Bums of Easy Street, he's engaging and 100% believable. He can sing about Cowboys and Indians (although again the 7-minute slow burner is more about racism than your typical Western nare-do-wellism), dust bowl epics or broken hearts and you never question the sincerity of his characters.

Unlike so many singers trying to tap into the same pipeline, Rogers really varies the tempo, drifting from simple picked riffs to full numbers and benefits from the guitar flourishes added by his brother (the gentle pace change Matthew adds to 500 Mile Blues is the perfect pick me up) and that's the simple 8-song record starts occupying your thoughts. You pick up pieces of the story on even the most distracted listen, and just when your interest might start to drift, he shifts gears and draws you back in. Wildfires is a terrific duet that really lets Rogers open up and reveal another wrinkle in his songwriting repertoire.

Long story short, this is easily one of the most pleasant surprises I've stumbled upon lately. Visit his myspace, because Ben's offering up a nice amount of free music for people to enjoy.
[MP3]:: 500 Mile Blues
[MP3]:: Cowboys and Indians


Posted at 1:23 PM by ack :: 1 comments

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At 12:43 AM, Anonymous Smansmith did sayeth:

Nice post, thanks for the introduction to even more great Canadian talent.



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