Ben Hemming released Broken Road in the summer and it’s just come across my desk. Hemmings is described in various terms – mostly some distance from the folk genre – such as “nu-bluesman” or “alt-rock credentials but still maintains his blues roots”.
Musically, I reckon its less delta or Chicago blues and more the souped-up melancholic slow-fast style of the Pixies in their Nirvana influencing songs. There’s no lyric book with the album, so I might have missed some of the subtleties, but Hemming’s world seems as dark as that of a murder ballad “I betrayed all of the fallen/more blood to be spilt” (Bleed); “Sleeping with the enemy/Well I know you do/Making deals with the devil/Well I know you do” (Dark Deals); or the opening lines of ‘A Knife In My Heart’ “It’s a preachers words like a knife in my heart/The city wind tears you apart”.
Throw in a vocal that can extend vowels into a growled slur, drumming that drives you on like you’re about to go into a darkened warehouse in a film noir, lead guitar that sometimes screeches like the scene in psycho …. and you get a feel for Hemming’s album.
But then listen to the tracks – ‘Dark Deals’ in the video below, for example – and you’ll hear how Hemming turns all of this into an album that you can listen to time and again. You can imagine the long vowels on the faster pieces being sung/chanted in a sweat bedecked club venue; for every psycho-shriek there’s some gentle acoustic guitar picking (‘Undone’ or ‘Knowing When To Die’). I suspect live performance is the proper setting for Hemming-music, but it comes over pretty well on a richly produced album.
There’s a long-ish piece on Hemming’s website. I’ll only quote part of it (but it’s worth a read of it all): “It was whilst stumbling along the main drag in Nashville one night, somewhat worse for wear, that his moment of epiphany came; he observed a crowd surrounding an old man playing an extraordinarily battered one string guitar, made from nothing more than a broom handle and a box, whilst playing drums with his feet. The rudimentary equipment belied a performance of musical integrity which touched Ben in a way he had never previously been, and in that moment he sensed he had found the inspiration he was looking for; the blues came not from the destination, but from the journey, and from the rawness of its expression.”
And underneath the rather nice production on Broken Road that’s what you’ve got – an album that touches the rawness of human life that isn’t always pretty. It’s not Blues as we would think of the music, but it’s Blues as we’d think of the emotion and I rather like the way Hemming does it.
Artist’s website: www.benhemming.co.uk
‘Dark Deals’ – official video: