I’ve been a huge admirer of the County Antrim singer-songwriter Ben Glover since the release of his debut album, The Week The Clocks Changed, back in 2008, when, reviewing it for Netrhythms, I noted the echoes of Steve Forbert. Since which time, he’s released a further four albums, each one incredibly better than the last, the Forbert references remaining, but also accruing comparisons with Springsteen, Ryan Adams, Steve Earle, Dylan, Paul Simon, Mike Scott, Van Morrison and David Gray in his beguiling marriage of Americana, Irish folk and 60s soul while gradually settling into his own voice.
On his latest release Atlantic, the Forbert touches aren’t particularly in evidence, and he sounds a lot more seasoned and, even at times, slightly grizzled, as can be heard on breathily-sung world-weary (“bottle on the floor, gasoline in the air”) Rod Picott co-write opener, This World Is A Dangerous Place, while vintage old-school honky tonk waltzer True Love’s Breaking My Heart has definite shades of Jimmie Dale Gilmore.
The album was inspired by a Christmas visit to the grave of blues legend Robert Johnson, two years back, prompting Glover to find similarities between the Mississippi Delta and Ireland, not so much in their geography, but rather the sense and scars of their history and tradition. Given that he spends his time between Ireland the southern states, he decided to form a musical bridge, and while Neilson Hubbard, who’s produced every album since sophomore outing, Through The Noise, Through The Night, is again at the helm, this time, it was recorded, not in Nashville, but back among his roots, live in the living room of his house amid the rugged Donegal landscape, overlooking the ocean that provides the title.
The pilgrimage to Johnson’s – and the legend of bluesmen, crossroads and the devil – clearly spawned Oh Soul, one of three numbers co-penned with Mary Gauthier (and which appeared on her recent Trouble & Love), a slow rolling gospel infused meditation on the choices we make while the notion of being tied to our history and the pull of the past finds expression in the Dylanesque bluesy howl of Gauthier co-write Too Long Gone and Prisoner, a terrific chugging rootsy number with ringing mixed back electric guitar and some of the album’s best and darkest lines as he sings about promises being crushed like Dixie cups and the opening gambit “she told me she hid the gun in the potter’s field”.
That air of southern gothic also extends to following number, Blackbirds, an unfaithful heart murder ballad co-written with Gretchen Peters who also shares the often sparse vocals as they sing “no one saw me come and no one saw me go, only the blackbirds and you” in a way that makes you want Billy Bob Thornton to go out and make a movie of it.
Peters hangs around for the next track, striking a very different note with the tender croon of The Mississippi Turns Blue before the final Gauthier co-write kicks in with the mandolin backed, driving slide guitar blues moan swagger Take and Pay, though I have to confess when I first heard the chorus I’d have sworn he was singing shake and bake.
The pull of home is revisited on the decidedly Irish vibe (and accent) of pub sing-along mandolin shuffle Sing A Song Boys, the album closing on a reflective note with the simple acoustic, whispery-sung New Year’s Day, a song that washes over you like the Atlantic waves lapping on the beach as the sun sets, gradually fading into the night sky.
There is, however, one other song, one which (and there’s some fierce competition in his catalogue) may be the best thing he’s written, the aching How Much Longer Can We Bend?, a lap-steel streaked song about a relationship under strain that cracks the heart apart as, voice laden with hurt and resignation, he sings “how much longer can we bend before we break”.
Although, still as yet, not discovered by a mass audience, Glover has once again raised the bar, not just for his own career, but for everyone in the Americana musical panorama. And I have no doubt that, when album number six rolls around, he’ll clear it with ease.
Review by: Mike Davies
Upcoming Tour Dates
18 – Flowerfield Arts Centre, Porstewart, N.Ireland (Album Release Show)
19 – The Ulster Museum, Belfast, N.Ireland (Album Release Show)
29 – The Morris Hall, Shrewsbury, England
01 – The Glee Club, Birmingham, England – with Mary Gauthier
03 – Glasgow Americana Festival – with Mary Gauthier
04 – The Met, Bury, England – with Mary Gauthier
05 – The County Hotel, Selkirk, Scotland – with Mary Gauthier
11 – The Ballyliffin Hotel, Co.Donegal, Ireland
Released on Carpe Vita Creative, Out Now