MP3: Benjy Ferree – Fear
Benjy Ferree’s (Wiki) first album hinted at a promising future. He is one of a sizeable stable of musicians undertaking the fusion of a deep love of Americana with an unabiding passion for rock. Too often this leads to uninteresting and unsatisfying ends: pale imitations of rural folk, gimmicky and trite psych-folk meanderings…the list of mediocre iterations is endless. But the top tier of these artists are possessed of uncanny arranging ability, an ear for dynamic interplay between vocal and instrumental voices, and a unique alchemy that lends the music an unclassifiable quality that breaks the shackles of its influences.
To my ears, Benjy Ferree is one of these top tier talents.
His first record, 2006′s Leaving the Nest, was an expertly produced debut that stuck out in my mind for juxtaposing incongruous elements that ended up soundng surprisingly complementary. Even still, this album still comfortably stayed in the orbit of rickety Americana-soaked rock. The most noticeable upgrade on this sophomore album, Come Back to the Five and Dime, Bobby Dee Bobby Dee, is the wide variety of sonic textures Ferree deploys through a myriad of musical voices, both instrumental and vocal; beyond the standard outlay for indie rock, trombone, steel guitar, cello, warm analog synths and even spoken word make appearances. His music has expanded in many ways to make for a rich listen. Ferree’s talents as an adventurous and effective songwriter and arranger are on full display.
Ferree also undertakes a concept album (in the broadest sense of the term). The entire record touches upon, either directly or indirectly, the tragic tale of child actor Bobby Driscoll, who tasted fame through his years as Disney’s “Golden Boy,” most notably portraying and voicing of the iconic character Peter Pan in 1953. The years that followed were tumultuous, with ties to Disney severed and an addiction-fueled downward spiral into a hobo lifestyle and solitary, anonymous death at age 31.
Appropriately, the album opens with the lush, oft-melancholic “Tired of being good,” trading off eerie fuzz and buzz synths, blues guitar picking and the occasional major key refrain. However, given such weighty subject matter, the album’s mood has wide variety. ”Fear” is a sweetly harmonious track in the vein of pop from days gone by, reaching back even as far as doo-wop with its delicious vocal harmonies and balladry. ”The Grips” is an affecting declaration of acceptance and consolation, its denouement heralded by a longing steel guitar solo.
Ferree is particularly effective in sprawling rock mode; big garage hooks and classic rock swagger abound where tracks like “Pisstopher Chrisstopher,” the rapid-fire “Come to Me, Coming to Me,” and the anthemic “Great Scotty,” can channel the best of the White Stripes. Strong blues rock melodies show through on many tracks, particularly “Blown Out,” a jaded ode to adolescent burnout. Ferree even indulges in straight-ahead country on “When You’re 16,” leaving his signature only in the distinctive sound of his vocals. Lyrically, Ferree weaves a carefully curated word-soup, with an endless string of references to Driscoll’s tragic life and various metaphors and images with near-infinite possible interpretations.
The lasting impression of the album is one of epic scope that is grounded by a few flaws. It actually recalls images from another famous fantasy tale: The Wizard of Oz. It seems to me that Benjy Ferree is a confused mixture of the Tin Man and the Scarecrow. He seems so obsessed and pre-occupied with his brain, the cerebral aspects of the album, that he leaves behind some of the heart.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where things falter, perhaps a bit of the fault lies with a heavy hand in production or arranging. But there is undoubtedly something lost in the overly meticulous compositions; like houses made of crystal, they are beatuiful and engaging yet you never feel completely comfortable inhabiting them. And because of this, the album is not quite Ferree’s opus and falls short of bringing the listener into intimate connection with Bobby Driscoll’s story. But that doesn’t take away the fact that it is an impressive sophomore showing, full of gems that shine perfectly well removed from the context of Bobby Dee.
Label: Domino Records
Release Date: Feb 3 (Digital) / Feb 17 2009 (CD)
- Tired of Being Good (4:06)
- Fear (2:49)
- Big Business (3:31)
- What Would Pecos Do? (3:06)
- Blown Out ( Gold Doubloons and Pcs of 8 ) (4:33)
- The Grips (4:05)
- Iris Flowers (0:57)
- I Get No Love (4:26)
- Come to Me, Coming to Me (2:48)
- Whirlpool of Love (5:22)
- Pisstopher Chrisstopher (4:01)
- When You’re 16 (4:01)
- Great Scott! (3:06)
- Zipperface Blues (4:05)
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