Irish born and now Nashville based singer-songwriter Ben Glover has been going through the process of getting his US Green Card over the past two years and tells us the 'reality of immigration was very present in my world'. This is eloquently captured in the PR material that accompanied his CD which says 'When an ocean separates the two halves of your whole, it's worthy of contemplation. For Ben Glover that consideration comes in the form of his new album, The Emigrant, which folds his two worlds into one'.
Ben relocated to Nashville in 2009 and had a solo album out in 2014, but has also made a name for himself as a 'co- writer' of note. Most obviously, this has been with Mary Gauthier and Gretchen Peters and with Peters, he won the International Song of the Year at the 2016 Americana Awards with 'Blackbirds'.
For his album 'The Emigrant', the themes of searching, identity and home predominate in a continually restless fashion. Accordingly, Ben finds songs from all sorts of places, Traditional arrangements, more contemporary covers, co and solo writes, all unified by the sentiments at the heart of each number.
Recorded at Mr Lemons Studio in Nashville, the album was engineered and mixed by Neilson Hubbard and produced by Ben and Neilson. Ben has now signed to Proper Records, so distribution should be good and it is all packaged in a classy, understated manner with an evocative front cover illustration based on the painting 'The Crossing' by Eamonn Higgins.
The playing throughout is rich and textured and although it is a bit of a list, everyone merits a mention! Throughout, Ben sings and plays acoustic guitar and other contributors shift between songs. There is Eamon McLoughlin, strings, Neilson Hubbard, bass, percussion, piano and backing vocals, Dan Mitchell, piano, John McCullough, piano, Skip Cleavinger Uilleann pipes, whistles, Colm McClean, acoustic guitar and Conor McCreanor, bass.
The opening track is an arrangement of the traditional song 'The Parting Glass' and makes its entry on a choppy acoustic guitar and swooping violin before the advent of Ben's vocal. His voice is something of a revelation to my ears and manages to sound unique whilst also conjuring up echoes of Van Morrison, Foy Vance, Bruce Springsteen, Shane MacGowan and Bob Dylan to name but a few. This sense of somehow being known, but not known, lends immediacy and presence, then throw in an accent that sits bang in the middle of Ireland and America and you have a voice that is a storytellers dream. The song builds and layers throughout, beautifully played as befits a tale that historically was sang at the end of a gathering of friends.
'A Song of Home', a co- write with Tony Kerr, is a stripped back affair but even the more powerful for that. It boasts a suitably windswept vocal over acoustic guitar and glorious piano fills that deepen as the song moves forward. At about two minutes in some Nick Drake type atmospheric violin enters and Ben's vocal switches to Van Morrison 'stream of consciousness' testifying before it blows itself out and settles awhile to catch a second wind. A marvellous song and a marvellous performance.
Title track 'The Emigrant' is a co write with Gretchen Peters and starts as a piano vocal ballad of the highest order, filled with both longing and hope. Lines such as 'The restlessness, the discontent, that's the curse of the emigrant'. As the song progresses it goes distinctly Irish, with sweet Uilleann pipes and violin, sounding all the world like it was plucked from the soundtrack of Tom Hanks 'The Road to Perdition'.
'Moonshiner' is another traditional song and rattles along nicely on an acoustic guitar line and sparse percussion with the vocal sitting right on top, conjuring images of Bruce Springsteen in 'Ghost of Tom Joad' mode.
The Ralph McTell song 'From Clare to Here' follows and Ben's version is again full of yearning and regret and lines such as 'Me mother would like a letter home but I'm too tired for writing' sound completely personal and authentic.
And so it goes throughout the album, songs of restless searching, loss and hope all delivered with complete conviction, whatever their origin.
Also, surprises pop up where they have no right to. The first time I played this record through, I was engaged but remained somewhat apprehensive about the arrival of track nine, Eric Bogle's 'The Band Played Waltzing Matilda'. It is a great song for sure, that is not in question. However, I did question whether the world needed another version to add to the cannon of thousands, but Ben's version is simply spellbinding. Essentially another piano and vocal ballad, Ben sings it as if he is Tom Wait's at closing time but with a starkness and passion that really brings home the personal loss of the protagonist, rather than the more generalised statements in the song about the futility of war. It is performed with the sort of heart and intensity that suggests Ben wrote it himself the previous day, not that he was covering one of the most revered songs in recent history.
'The Green Glens of Antrim' ends things on a suitable note of hope and features some particularly fine playing throughout. 'You'd imagine a picture of heaven to be, where the green glens of Antrim are calling to me'.
This is a very impressive album, seamlessly melding traditional, old, not so old and new in service of the chosen themes. Repeatedly words like yearning, redemption, restlessness, belonging and displacement come to mind in the context of these songs, but never does it slip into maudlin despair or sentimentality. This has to be down to the quality of the recording, creative arrangements, consummate playing and the sheer conviction and emotional pull of Ben's voice. Never has the sound of longing been so uplifting'
|Carrie Martin: What If...||Anna Shannon: Rough Weather|
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