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Ben KunderBen Kunder
Album: Golden
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 9
Website: http://www.benkunder.com

Canadian singer-songwriter Ben Kunder, described as a part time carpenter and sometime actor, has also spent years honing his craft with the aim of becoming a full time musician. This debut album is further evidence of that aspiration.

The promotional information that accompanies this CD tells us Ben has been performing, writing and producing his music independently for over seven years. Than, a chance meeting with musician and producer John Dinsmore led to them working together and co producing 'Golden' in John's studio.

The songs here are all Ben originals and he provides vocals, guitar and piano throughout the nine tracks. Some of Canada's finest musicians add further guitar, piano, Wurlitzer, drums, bass and pedal steel whilst others contribute beautiful vocals across the songs.

The CD itself is perfectly packaged, an exercise in understated simplicity and the cover photo that spreads across front and back, reeks of archetypal Canadian imagery. A phrase I had not come across before describes the album as 'lush, expansive Canadiana' and that sum things up nicely!

The first thing that registers with this album is the marvellous recording and production values. The playing throughout is similarly outstanding and there is a real, cohesive 'band' vibe without a note feeling wasted or unnecessary.

With musicians of this calibre at hand, I imagine it must have been tempting to dress up every little detail but this temptation is admirably resisted.

'Travelling' is a great opener, chugging in on a tight acoustic rhythm part, the band enters for a few bars before Ben comes in with the opening line. He has a distinctive, flexible voice, which is quite high in register, particularly on the more up-tempo songs and put me in mind a little of Teddy Thompson. As with all well-chosen first tracks, this one familiarises the listener with the sound and sets out the stall for all that follows.

'Love On The Run' is a slower, more atmospheric number featuring some gloriously doomy, reverbed guitar that lends an almost vintage Chris Isaak feel.

The title track 'Golden' is another that chugs in on a chunky rhythm track and features Maia Davies on vocals harmonising beautifully with Ben here.

'Half Moon' is one of my personal favourites on the album. A tight, insistent acoustic riff introduces the song but with a gruff, "hey" from Ben the band tumbles in on full throttle, sounding like Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band in arena mode. A commercial song this and if it hasn't been earmarked already, I think it would make a great single!

And so it goes for the rest of the album, consistently solid songs full of exemplary playing.

A couple of further stand out tracks for me are 'Love and Motion' and 'Don't Dance'.

Both of these songs highlight Ben's sweet, finger style playing and the first one 'Love and Motion' features some wonderfully understated accompaniment from pedal steel, drums, bass and electric guitar, each almost entering in turn and gradually layering up the sound. This is another great example of the 'less is more' recording ethos on the album where the sound is subtly deepened without being smothered. Special mention also to the acoustic guitar recording on the finger picked numbers, where the separation between the melody notes on the treble strings and the lovely alternate bass thump is perfect!

'Don't Dance' is simply Bens voice, guitar and the sweetest harmony vocal from Kirty Scholte, a lovely, warm performance from both of them.

I have been lucky enough to review some great CD's by Canadian artists over the past few months, singer-songwriters such as Carly Dow, Oliver Swain and Ben Caplan. Ben Kunder is every bit their equal with this beautifully played, recorded and produced album and he is clearly a man able to hold his own in classy company.

Whether it means he is able to give up his day jobs and hand himself over to his music fully remains to be seen. But, without doubt, this is an important step in the right direction.