ALBUM REVIEW: BENJAMIN BAKER “ACOUSTIFIED: VOLUME TWO”

Artist: Benjamin Baker
Album: Acoustified: Volume Two
Buy: iTunes Amazon
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Stories of war, regret, bar room drinking and a second (maybe third?) round of bar room drinking abound on sixteen-track stinger and folk singer, Benjamin Baker’s latest album, Acoustified: Volume 2. Even though the lyrics are at times brash and full of unfettered angst, they are delivered through Benjamin’s golden-boy, airy voice and minimalist arrangements.

Like many of the songs off of the album, “Sittin’ at a Bar” has a lovely two-part harmony in the chorus. It’s about a drinking fool and how it leads to violent fights between a man and a woman. The rhythm guitars have a bar room production quality that makes it even more real.

“Chariot” demonstrates the artist’s beautiful and natural cadence between his lyrics and melody. They waltz together smoothly as they build throughout the song. The two-part harmony during the chorus adds a pop dynamic unheard on many of the other tracks. Its chorus is catchy and vibrant rollicking around a very basic two, (or, even three-part) chord progression.

“Rosarita Beach Cafe” is another one of many drinking songs off of Acoustified: Volume 2. This song also has a sweet golden two-part harmony in the chorus which really adds a zing to the song, even though Benjamin’s voice is strong and tender enough to stand on its own. The slo-burning tempo of the song is sorrowful and towards the end of the song, the two-party harmony rides up an octave higher adding a sense of drama and desperation to the song. This song is definitely a repeater for listeners. One could imagine long-time fans of listeners to these songs actually singing along to them, the way they might sing along to “American Pie” or “Cat’s in the Cradle.”

Themes of self-reflection are also prevalent on the album. “Alright Now” is a self-reflecting song about regret. The singer speaks of being “stupid and insensitive,” and losing his “sense of direction.” The song’s chord progression and tempo are reminiscent of The Beatles “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away.” The end of the song has the singer talking with a flange effect— a great change-up from the rest of the song as if he is whispering in the listener’s ear.

Another dimension to the singer/songwriter exists that is not just all about booze and women. “The War,” is a story about a boy who gets drafted into the armed forces for WWII. Benjamin’s voice is an airy tenor, emotive and intense. The song is about war, life and death.

At one point there is a late 60s and early 70s feel to the record. “Blood Bank” has a Simon and Garfunkel darkness to it, especially with the backing harmonies scattered throughout the song very much like their classic ballads (think “The Boxer” or “Homeward Bound.”). The arrangement is articulate and very well done; the production quality is clear and spare, and filled with sheer solemnity that Americana music embodies. “City of Sin” could very well be a song by a folk artist from the 60s like The Mamas and The Papas, or, Bob Dylan. The harmonica solo also adds to the Woodstock-like sensation of the song. The artist’s voice in the song takes on a vibrato unheard on the other tracks.

Most of the tracks off of Acoustified: Volume 2 are home runs both lyrically and production-wise. However, there are some tracks which might turn listeners off though given the delivery of the songs and the topical nature of these songs. “Oxygen” has a swinging melody with somewhat preachy lyrics, but a really sweet sounding set of changes between the verses and chorus, although there are parts when the changes seem a bit disjointed. The lyrics ramble on too much and tend to swallow up the melody and changes. It’s an example of how folk songs can get so topical and lose their solidity in the process.

“Wicked Way” is played out like a slow and cutesy love song, but at a closer look, the lyrics are naughty and are a bit immature. As talented as the singer is with his sweet golden-boy voice, the one-night-standish lyrics might turn off female listeners and perhaps even a good number of men.

The latter two songs should not deter listeners and fans of gorgeous folk music like Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez or Harry Chapin from buying this album. Acoustified: Volume 2 is filled with too many memorable and tender moments to not highly recommend it.