To these ears, newcomer Benjamin Booker sounds like 25 year old working on a 45 year smoking habit. On his debut album, the New Orleans native harkens back to the days when Southern roots rock was king, packing in plenty of the bluesy twang, gospel, and guitar tones that Jack White loves so much. Benjamin Booker leaves us with a reminder the glorious the past of rock and roll.
Opener “Violent Shiver” is the best vehicle to showcase that rich musical past. The ‘toe-tapability’ of this tune is almost too much for lil ole me to handle. Between the pounding drums, the ‘ooh, ooh, oooh’s’ and killer chorus, I was out of breath by the time the song ended. And while no other song really excels past this point of pure joy, several come close enough to make that track sweat it out a bit.
The album as a collective touches on all those elements of that bygone era; one minute Ben and his crew can bring the raucous in the grand fashion of Chuck Berry (“Wicked Waters“, “Have You Seen My Son?“), then steer you right into a rockabilly swagger (“Chippewa”) and mere moments later have you mournfully reaching for the whiskey bottle (“I Thought I Heard You Screaming”, “By The Evening”). Booker spreads his musical wings on tracks like “Have You Seen My Son?”, a pseudo rock-opera complete with ‘Tremé’ like drum beats and epic 70’s guitar riffage. Whatever your mood, these songs are so much fun that they’ll leave you smilin’.
Booker’s voice is the real focal point on this album. His harsh baritone almost has you wincing and empathetically reaching for your own throat. His raspy instrument is most affective when he needs to portray fragility, which he does exceptionally on tracks like closer “By The Evening”.
He plays the type of music that your parents always told you was ‘good music’, and not that ‘crap’ you blasted from your stereo. And in this ONE moment, they may have been right (although, dad, I’ll deny that I ever said it).
Joe K. (Twitter: @KralTunes)