Although it’s 10 tracks long, several of which are substantial five minute numbers, Benjy Ferree’s first album Leaving The Nest seems to slip past quickly, in part due to the forgetability of some of the tracks, but conversely also due to the fact that several stand out crisply in the mind after it’s done playing.
Ferree, whose beard and habit of looking worried make him appear much older than his 32 years, has one of the most twee bios you’ll ever read, but forgive that and pass on, there’s something interesting here. He didn’t start songwriting until the age of 21 when he couldn’t afford to buy his brother a Christmas gift so sang him a song instead, and then spent years in hiatus nannying for Hollywood bigwigs while trying to earn a crust as an actor.
The time as an au pair certainly explains the nursery-rhyme quality of some of the songs. Drums are often basic and clattery, instruments associated with childhood like the glockenspiel tinkle away in the background, and some tracks, like the opener In The Countryside, have a kind of Tommy Steele knees-up quality, what with the whistling and the ‘happy hands are in the air’ chorus. Which is not to denigrate it, it’s damned catchy as a result, and certainly a strong start.
In a similar vein are Why Bother and Hollywood Sign, whose singsong words and tinny mouth organ drive it along and fix it in your memory despite some rather sloppy writing. Whistling breaks out again in the intro to an echoey, dallying cover of Johnny Cash‘s A Little At A Time. It’s the only cover, and its simple, see-sawing rhythm and repetition fit right in with Ferree’s approach to songwriting.
The song that follows it, The Desert, picks up the country touch with a haunting fiddle part in the intro, but then turns into a retread of In The Countryside, and soon slides from memory.
The big question I suppose is, will Ferree’s simple word pictures and pleasant, warm American voice prove enough to stand out from the current vogue for maturer male singer-songwriters. There’s a plaintive quality to his voice, and a lo-fi appeal to the production despite some very nice featured instruments, especially on They Were Here and Leaving The Nest.
On his strongest songs like the folksy Why Bother, with its distorted pronunciation, and gloriously building choir in the background, not to mention indecipherable lyrics that none the less have a kind of mythical quality to them, Ferree’s voice is truly haunting. Certainly he deserves the chance to build on this start, and to continue to develop his song-writing abilities to the point where the excellent instrumentation on his albums support all his songs sympathetically, rather than as here, shoring some of them up and becoming the star.