Ben Glover – ‘Atlantic’ album – Review
From Glenarm, a quiet seaside village in County Antrim, comes Ben Glover, a Northern Irishman with a musical heart and mind steeped in American roots and country music. He cites traditional Irish music mixed with Americana as the soundtrack of his childhood, having travelled stateside during his time as a student playing Springsteen and Dylan in his hometown pubs to pay his way and bashing out The Pogues and Christy Moore for audiences in bars across the Atlantic. Ben relocated to Nashville in 2009 where he has since been busy carving himself a career in music.
The inspiration for his fourth album, Atlantic came via a trip to the Mississippi Delta to visit the grave of bluesman Robert Johnson. Inspired by the similarities of the two places, Ben decided to return to Ireland and record an album that incorporated the sense of tradition, history, musical and cultural creativity, he felt both locations exuded. Recorded in a home studio in Donegal with Irish and American musicians, Atlantic is Glover’s salute to his Irish origins whilst embracing the North American roots music he is passionate about. Atlantic is a beautifully recorded piece, performed admirably, but the cultural balance of musical inspiration does indeed tip quite heavily in favour of our large and imposing American neighbours. The influence of musicians, such as North Carolina native Ryan Adams, on Glover and his music is apparent from the outset.
The album opens with delicate guitar picking and the soft, subdued vocals of ‘This World is a Dangerous Place’. The basis for the aural aesthetic of the album can be identified at first listen; this is a collection of songs that wears its Americana heart on its grease stained check shirt. The simple structure and sparse production of the opening track lays the foundation for an engaging introduction into Atlantic and the use of acoustic instruments and Glover’s hushed, and at times, almost dirt-gravelly voice engages the listener and draws you in. Spacious slide guitar fills out the track as Glover sings about watching a women smoking a cigarette in a motel room. Seems like we’re back in Kansas Toto!
‘Too Long Gone’ is a driving country romp replete with plenty of rock n roll swagger and attitude. The song benefits from a built up full band sound as it bounces and blusters along, drums pound, percussion shakes, organ wails and backing vocals whirl whilst Glover airs the emigrant’s sentiment, ‘All I know is I been gone too long’, the exile’s lament. All the elements converge to create a fine noise, one that isn’t explored extensively enough on the rest of the record. ‘Blackbirds’ featuring Gretchen Peters is a quiet and atmospheric country duet with an underlying sense of unease and lyrical tension, drenched and soaked with isolated imagery, ‘no one saw me coming, no one saw me go, only the blackbirds and you’. The minimal instrumentation allows space for their voices to weave, interlink intricately and dynamically progress steadily towards its solitary end.
Although the album has strengths, there does seem to be something amiss, an element left out. ‘Take and Pay’ smacks of Steve Earle; upbeat intro and a chorus that ensures you sing along, while ‘Sing a Song Boy’ emits a real sense of excitement and playful homecoming, especially when Glover sings ‘No more worries Da, I won’t be long’, in a clear Irish accent and as the delivery sends shivers down your spine, it becomes apparent that the missing link on Atlantic is the lack of a more distinctly Irish influence on the music. The cultural mixing of music would have made for a sweet marriage had an Irish identity been accentuated more, both musically and vocally. A record reminiscent of the Chieftains 2012 record Voice of Ages it might have been. Not to worry; a smoothly recorded and beautiful slice of Americana pie nonetheless. What more could you want?
By Andy Guyett