Saturday, February 4, 2012

Chapter Twenty Six: "Benanthrope - Saddest of Bastards EP."

About six years ago, I moved back to my hometown of Louisville after an extended stay in Lexington and a much shorter stay in Portland. It was a rough time; I came without a job, little money, a few belongings, a broken down brown pickup, a (small...OK, a medium-sized) drinking problem, and some confusion in my brain. My brother, Derrick, immediately offered me a place to stay in an unfinished basement with him until I got on my feet, and even set me up with a job waiting tables at the Comedy Caravan, were he worked at the time. We both work late nights, and stayed out even later, watching music, playing music, and sloshing whiskeys until morning most nights for those first few lively months. I already knew some of the characters that populated the River City music scene due to my trips here playing in bands. I met newer acquaintances through my brother and his friends, who were all quick to welcome me. As I acclimated myself to my new surroundings, I immersed myself in every show I could afford, and stayed as late as I could at every social situation I found myself in, planting myself as deep as I could into my new old home. Two AM often became three AM often became six AM, and there were parties and walks home at dawn and faces and names were encountered left and right, four sheets to the wind and through and through on those dark, warm, narcotic Louisville nights.

Eventually, I found myself apartment- and dog-sitting on my own for over a month for a friend. The place was situated right off Bardstown Road, and late nights after the Caravan often led to post-last-call gatherings at the apartment, which was built like a warehouse, and furnished about the same. We'd wake in the afternoon, a guitar in the corner, one of us on the couch, the rest on the hardwood floors, episodes of "The Muppet Show" on repeat in the DVD player. It was one of these nights, in the obscured jacinth haze that framed those evenings, that I met Ben Lally, a fellow ex-Lexingtonian. It had been at the Hideaway, and Ben's experimental jazz band The Sexual Disaster Quartet had performed. The obvious answer after the show was to come to a place that was not mine and party longer. I do recall Ben and I getting into an argument, and I believe we exchanged some harsh words and some harsh shoves, and he left. We were both out of character and out of our own sorts.  

Six years later, Ben and I ran into each other at the grocery store in the produce section, planning pasta dinners. Things definitely fell into the "oh ha ha we can laugh about it now" grin, as should all bizarre ancient drunken arguments. While I was holding a bulb of garlic and Ben held a sprig of basil, talk quickly turned to music and music production. He told me he was working on putting the time and effort into some new material. The results of that are Benanthrope, a band Ben formed around his songs. Benanthrope has just released as its debut, the "Saddest of Bastards" EP, which is both downloadable and available as a CD.

It's clear with one listen that lyrics drive and infest Ben's brain. Benanthrope is definitely driven by the words; each song is different painting that houses those lines. It's singer-songwriter music that experiments with the presentation of themes and ideas in the words, making for a pretty diverse listen, never staying within one genre, but jump-skipping from style to style. "Saddest of Bastards" wears like a jacket full of influences on its sleeve, much like other imaginative singer-songwriters pursue their muses. You can tell Lally listens to a lot of different types of music as the EP travels through outsider-hinged country, folk, blues, and just straight experimental presentations to express the ideas and the sounds that he's taking aim at. The full target is the song and the genre is wiped aside to find the perfect frame for that thought. I hear Tom Waits, "Mutations"-era Beck, Willie Nelson, and a host of other timbers for support, each meshing and mixing into music that makes for good medicine for a person intertwined into the idea of the song. Benanthrope is what songwriters for songwriters do; take everything around them and combine it into a whirl that becomes their own, like students of song. This EP definitely accomplishes that. It's interesting, creative, well-written, and time was definitely spent in its recording.

"Tuesday Morning Squared" and "Bomb Shelter in My Mind" walk stepping stones into country, finding footing on a mix of instrumentation that marks all five songs contained herein, hearing Lally's lyrics paired with steel guitar, banjo, guitar and keys. "Promised Land" is a slower tempo, with a down-timed piano and electronics supporting a spacey melody that doesn't shake until it melts at the end into that aforementioned medicine. "Like a Thoroughbred" takes a dark path, with Lally's vocals lowered and singing of being carried back to Kentucky through subtle blues/folk, the bass ringing like brush, creating a scene easy to see.

My favorite track is "Finally Don't Care," which sounds to me like a traditional melody sung by a down and out character on New Year's Eve with imagery that applauds the surrounding Wurlitzer organ and Telecaster, both of which seem to be have been drinking a little too much the night before, sauntering their way to a the grunt of a pig in the end. I think that's what that sound is; either way, it works as a hangover anthem for me.

Ben has roped in several great players to round out live performances for Benanthrope, including J. Glenn (who's latest album was reviewed right here on this very blog) on pedal steel, Andy Matter on bass guitar and upright bass, Rory Hanka on various styles of keys, and Tyler Little on percussion. Here's an upcoming show list where you can catch them (and purchase the CD):

Fri February 17 @ The Monkey Wrench (Louisville) with Randy Tuesday and the Opposable Thumbs
Fri March 2 @ Zazoo's (Louisville) with J. Glenn and Your News Vehicles
Fri March 16 @ Lynagh's (Lexington).

"Saddest of Bastards" can also be purchased at Benanthrope's bandcamp site, located here.