When I first heard of Benjamin William Pike’s latest CD A Burdensome Year (released on January 27th 2017), my interest was piqued by a suggested comparison to Michael Chapman. (That’s the folky/bluesy/jazzy singer and guitarist, not the Chinnichap chap who wrote and produced hits for the likes of Sweet, Suzi Quatro and Blondie in the 70s.) And there is a resemblance to Chapman sometimes in song structure, but mostly in Benjamin’s “gin-soaked” vocals, though the overall effect is perhaps smoother. However, Benjamin’s fluent guitar lines reminded me less of Chapman than of Jack Jackson (to whom there is also an occasional vocal resemblance) and at some points Martin Simpson. The instrumental work here is as more about providing a strong melodic basis for the songs than it is about displaying technique, though his mastery of the acoustic guitar in particular is evident.
I was also interested, after recently reviewing The Treatment Tapes EP by Rab Noakes, to find that the songs on this CD were also based on his experience of illness, hospitalization and surgery. Not that I have the least objection to people using their personal experiences directly in their music-making, and for the benefit of those who are uneasy with sad songs, let me reassure you that the general tone of this album is generally upbeat, despite the poignancy of some of the lyrics.
- Benjamin William Pike: vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, pedal steel, piano, Fender Rhodes
- Mattie Foulds: drums, percussion, backing vocals
- Adam Richards: double bass
- Patsy Reid: violin, viola
- ‘Beasts Of Burden’ is not, of course, the Rolling Stones track of almost the same name, though there’s something slightly exotic about the way he sings the modal melody and underlying guitar figure that might remind you a little of early Stones music and Brian Jones’s experimentation with Indian and North African influences. (Benjamin is, in fact, well-acquainted with Indian classical music: I’d like to hear some of his work in that area.)
- ‘Hand You’ve Been Dealt’ includes some somewhat Simpson-esque acoustic guitar work, and has a fatalistic lyric, and some passages that are almost orchestral. Very nice interplay between the bass and the guitar, and a catchy chorus.
- Benjamin describes ‘Ones To Forget’ as a country song, and the restrained steel guitar in the background does give it a country feel.
- The guitar in ‘Ties That Bind’ makes it sound a little folkier. Though the lyric describes “things slowly falling apart“, the up-tempo arrangement keeps it the right side of lugubrious.
- ‘Keep Me In Your Mind’ is one of those songs like Phil Ochs’s ‘When I’m Gone…’ and Warren Zevon’s ‘Keep Me In Your Heart For A While’ that face up to the thought of a world without the composer in it, and it’s a very attractive example of that idiom. Fortunately, it was premature.
- The intro to ‘Bless The Bad Days’ is similar enough to the previous song that for a minute I thought I’d fallen for a false ending, despite the spoken “1,2,3,4…” that leads into it. Once it gets going, though, it’s a song that more than deserves a place on the CD in its own right.
- Benjamin describes ‘Time To Lend’ as having been “swirling around my heard in the first days after my operation…This is about being short on time.” His always excellent acoustic guitar work is supported by some unostentatious but totally appropriate electric guitar.
- ‘Dead Man Walking’ isn’t as gloomy as the title might suggest, being about “the death and re-birth of the body and mind“.
- ‘Down This Road’: I love the line “If you don’t know what the hell you are doing, you’re probably doing things right” and the general message about learning from your mistakes rather than abandoning them.
- ‘City Living’ has an attractive tune with a between-verses acoustic guitar part somewhat reminiscent of ‘Over The Hills And Far Away’ as Martin Simpson might have played it. The song itself is more country than folk, but with its theme of a musician wanting to get back to country living, perhaps that resemblance is deliberate. In any case, it rounds off the CD nicely.
There’s a lot to enjoy here. Those vocals may or may not be gin-soaked, but they’re certainly not unmusical. They carry some very interesting songs very well. While this probably isn’t intended to be a CD focused on guitar wizardry, Benjamin’s fluent technique shines throughout, with some solid instrumental support. I would, perhaps, have ordered the tracks a little differently (especially track 6), and some of the choruses repeat lines a little more than I like personally. Nonetheless, I look forward to hearing much more from him.
Artist’s website: www.benjaminwilliampike.co.uk/
‘Beasts Of Burden’ – promo video: