Benjamin Booker has blasted onto the scene seemingly out of nowhere. After being snapped up by Rough Trade, and just after the release of his first single, he was invited to perform on Late Show with David Letterman and then was promptly handpicked by Jack White to play as support act on his American tour. It may appear to some that there is a lot riding on this young man from New Orleans and that a lot of success has come his way without him having done a lot to warrant it. Yet, his self-titled debut album proves that amongst all the hype, there is substance behind the tide of excitement.
The album opens with the electrifying debut single Violent Shiver, with its hard blues-inspired riffs and Booker’s rough-edged voice. You become immediately entranced by the sound, which at once sounds inspired by old blues singers, but also incredibly new and refreshing. It retains a brightness and energy that seeps right through the melodies. In the live setting, it is full of irrevocable delight and excitement, and it is refreshing to see that this feeling does not get lost on the record and instead seeps right through the speakers.
What makes this album so endearing as a collection of songs is the way it which it comes across as being raw and honest in its sound. Booker’s voice is by no means perfect – it is rough and beaten – but it is in this imperfection that the honesty and feeling comes across with force.
Take Always Waiting and Slow Coming sport both delicacy and heartfelt lyricism. It is as though a wise old man is singing to you about his past, rather than a young man on his first album. Originality is something that is hard to come by these days, but there is something new in this album. Booker’s dedication to ignoring the trends and sticking to what he knows best, which happens to be a tasty mixture of hard rock that gets your heart pounding and blues songs that pull at the strings of that pounding heart, has made him stand out.
But then there are songs such Chippewa or the new single Have You Seen My Son, where Booker bursts into such violent energy and passion, with crashing guitars and blues undercurrents, that then develop and emerge into something totally different. Have You Seen My Son, with its powerful, raw, classic rock-inspired interlude, raises the whole song out of the ground and exhibits the range of Booker’s talent, as much as a songwriter as a guitarist.
This is further shown in one of the album’s highlights, Spoon Out My Eyeballs. Drawing you in with its low sung drawl about “love songs produced by 40 year olds”, and then bursts into a fire of frustration and emotion as it builds, with Booker sacrificing himself to the music, “sacrifice my body to the beat of the drum”. There is a darkness in Booker’s outlook of the world, as he explores the life’s dullness, with Kids Never Growing Older, and repeatedly makes reference to his strict religious upbringing that he rebelled against but has nevertheless left a huge influence on him.
There is pain, frustration, beauty and love whistling away in every crevice of this album. It has deepness and maturity, but does not over-exert itself in finding perfection. Rather it is wild and unpredictable in its exploration of emotions, leading you on a whirlwind journey of highs and lows, but always doing so with passion.