Rock and Reprise.net
One-upped by a kid. When I asked for this album for review, I had not noticed that the second track is one of my recent favorites, The Way You Want It by Keane. A mid-tempo soft-rocker, it glides on a bed of melody and harmony, a song not exactly in Benjamin Johnson's wheelhouse from the samples I'd heard. Simple as it is, it is not the easiest song to pull off as, to my ears, it demands a straightforward and sincere approach, meaning no bells, whistles or vocal pyrotechnics. Well, give my ego a backside kick. The kid didn't need me to tell him what to do. He already knew. He gives it just enough to make me think Keane would approve. Great track.
The Way You Want It is hardly the only winner here. The album is stacked with them. Johnson throws in a couple of Croce covers (You Don't Mess Around With Jim and I Got a Name) and even though Croce has never been my favorite, they work well. A little Sound of Music with Sixteen Going On Seventeen, an odd choice, works as well, and he rounds out the non-originals with Nickel Creek's Jealous of the Moon. All good, The Way You Want It even better.
The real treat, though, are the originals, six of them and every one solid. Dream to Live is the album's opener, a mid-tempo march worthy of the musical theater, piano pounding chords just short of staccato. The beat turns to light shuffle on Gotta Be Free, using chords which would scream Latin if in a different progression. Seems Like Yesterday earns title track status with melody and chorus as uplifting as it is beautiful, and Great, Great Light as an album ender, while an anomaly with its obvious programming on voice, is majestic enough for film credits (it has the ?the end? aura, thanks partially to stacked synthesizers on the last stanza).
I would be remiss if I didn't give special mention to two tracks which do not seem to want to leave my head: Moonlight and Lands of Promise. It could be that they are just that good or it could be that Johnson's use of his sisters for vocal support is stroke of genius, but they are pure magic. Moonlight, a light ballad, relies on Johnson's almost Fleetwood's vocal (that is The Fleetwoods and not Fleetwood Mac, for those music-history-challenged, and the male voice belonged to one Gary Troxel), offset by the harmonies of sisters Jenna and K.K. who give an edge on the chorus. While I know it's not all that close, my ears hear shades of Les Dudek's outstanding chorus on Each Morning, minus the production--- something well worth hearing. And if that isn't enough, he melds reggae with pop and comes up with a song which knocks me out, that being Lands of Promise. Excellent and melodic reggae, it goes way over the top on the chorus and when they fake-end it (stop and fade it back in)--- well, let us just say that it gives it a touch which makes it that much better.
Ben (you don't mind me calling you Ben, do you? I mean, my ears and your music have shared some really fine moments)... Ben recorded most of the songs in a weeklong blitz locked in a basement, dragging in his sisters when needed. They have their own group, Track 45, and have this family thing going. I checked out their previous albums and they show real promise though lacking in originals. After hearing Seems Like Yesterday, I have hopes that they will head into the studio as a group soon, originals in hand. They have a sincerity and freshness I hear all too little these days, and believe me, I hear plenty.
Frank O. Gutch Jr.