Ben de la Cour
Flour Sack Cape Records
A Satisfying, Yet Disturbing Trip Into the Dark Heart of Small Town America
The first time I came across Ben de la Cour was a couple of years back when he was playing a short unofficial fringe slot at the 5 Spot in East Nashville. The place was dark; last night’s beer smell was drifting through the space and apart from myself, the attendance was pretty sparse for this late afternoon show.
Elements of that noirish atmosphere lace this 2020 release (2021 in Europe).
“God’s Only Son” opens with a Calexico-flavoured tale of criminal behaviour, with a voice that is soaked in rawness and melody. “High Heels Down the Holler” doesn’t get any brighter – A Tom Waits trashcan rhythm and grinding guitar, evokes a mood of sexual danger and exploitation
“If you’re looking for a little fun on Friday night”…but you really wouldn’t want to go there….
“The Last Chance Farm” is Rod Picott like in its melodic delivery and narrative tale of a first day in rehab
“The kingdom of salvation
Hangs upon a rusty nail
Beneath a proud old painting
Of a ship with golden sails
Let them have their revelations~
in the television light
The last chance farm is waiting.”
– it’s dark world with only glimmers of light.
“In God We Trust.. …All Others Pay Cash” is a Bluesy boogie which isn’t going to find favour amongst those with a neoliberal capitalist worldview, because it’s like
“putting candles on dog shit and calling it cake.”
The delicate finger-picking of “Amazing Grace (Slight return) is a Guy Clark alike story of the kind of relationship that you know is doomed to fail, yet in itself has a kind of inevitable tragic beauty.
Title track “Shadow Land” pulls the trick of cheerful West Coast melody and even darker lyrics such as
“It’s an empty world
Getting emptier every day”.
“Basin Lounge” rocks along in the style of Hayes Carll’s “KMAG YOYO,” with its subterranean homesick lyrical avalanche and boogie piano.
Things get darker and harder on “Swan Dive” which opens with an account of watching someone falling to their death from a height in a suicide fall, which in turn becomes a visual metaphor for the effect of emotional let-down
“it’s a whole new world when you peek through the cracks”.
There’s little let up in the resignation and wry observation of “From Now On”
“is it going to be this way
from now on?”
most definitely, it seems.
“Anderson’s Small Ritual” is Prine-like in its picking and couplets and focus on and celebration of eccentricity
“Never trust any man
If he don’t have no scars”
and finds a purpose and celebration in being out beyond the edge because
“tomorrow ain’t a promise
The life you save might be your own.”
Musically, “Harmless Indian Medicine Blues” with its distorted fuzzy vocals is Jim Morrison in intent and is a crazy messed up free-form psychotic nightmare put to words and music – it’s what it’s like to be on the edge and about to fall
“I Woke Up Screaming From an Opium Dream” – the final track again is situated on the brink of life/death and salvation and is struggling for purpose in a world where a “man’s a monkey on his dunghill”.
“Shadow Land” isn’t an easy listen – and a Google search will help the listener to gauge how much is persona and how much is from within – Ben de la Cour has lived a life that allows him to speak from authority about that which he sings; and hopefully there’s catharsis and healing in this satisfying yet quite disturbing trip into the dark heart of small town America.
Review by Nick Barber
Released April 9th 2021
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