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Benjamin William Pike Benjamin William Pike
Album: A Burdensome Year
Label: Gin House
Tracks: 10

His debut album, "Being and Nothingness", emerged from the darkness of being diagnosed with a chronic kidney disease. This deals with the subsequent experiences of the vital transplant, both before and after the operation. As such, it will come as no surprise to find the mood shifting between anxious anticipation, resignation, acceptance, hope and determination, even if the songs don't directly reference the procedure.

The title track, sung in Pike's earthy, husky drone, pretty much speaks for itself and addresses the connection between body and mind, Pike saying he spent the run-up to the operation trying to physically exhaust himself so he could get some sleep and not stay awake worrying. The arrangement and his phrasing nods to his studies of Indian classical music and featuring what I assume is the Mohan Veena, a 21 string Indian lap guitar. Likewise, the fingerpicked country blues shuffle "The Hand You've Been Dealt" is about acceptance, especially when you have no other options, and not blaming anyone for what life's thrown your way, Patsy Reid's violin adding to the mood.

Sounding a little like a less strident Billy Bragg, "Ones To Forget" is another country blues, a sparsely arranged waltzing melody couching lines about focusing on the positive ("when it comes to memories I always remember which ones to forget"), leading to the Jansch-like fingerpicking and violin shades of "Ties That Bind", charting an emotional low point as the ties come undone and things fall apart.

Faced with the very real possibility of not pulling through, it's hard not to dwell on mortality, thus the fiddle accompanied and brushed drums of the tumbling chords of "Keep Me In Your Mind", leading on to the shuffling train rhythm folk blues of "Bless The Bad Days" bolstering the song's attempt to marry an upbeat tune with the forced optimism of lines like and "the greatest pain reveals the greatest change, save your blessings for the darkest days."

Obviously, the operation went well and the remaining tracks reflect the relief, albeit still tinged with anxiety, as is the case of the mid-tempo dusty blues "Time To Lend", a simple but powerful song written about the days following surgery and being dosed up with morphine. Despite the title, positivity takes a firm grip in "Dead Man Walking", keyboards and strummed guitar underpinning a lyric about the rebirth of body and mind, about new starts in life and new perspectives as he sings "once a man accepts his fate there's nothing left to fear."

The last two numbers keep to the positive track, "Down This Road" a fingerpicked swaying song about being true to yourself, learning from your mistakes and changing mind, body and direction when you have to. On the final track, "City Living", with its handclap percussion and circling guitar pattern is a jogging acoustic folk blues about becoming disillusioned with the musician's life with its late nights and heckling drunks, and getting back to a simple countryside life. Given the album, it's to be hoped it's not advice he takes to heart.

Mike Davies