Raised in Stockholm, but occasionally based in London, Benjamin Folke Thomas wears his influences on his sleeve, embracing such roots-rock staples as Springsteen and Dylan, his gruff, dusty, slightly nasal baritone variously evocative of John Stewart, Tom Russell and Gordon Lightfoot while there’s some definite Knopfler touches to the guitar playing.
However, his bedrock touchstone is Warren Zevon, something underlined by the live show I caught in which he and his band of fellow Swedes closed the set with a punchy cover of Play It All Night Long, Thomas returning to encore with a solo acoustic version of Don’t Let Us Get Sick, unplugging the guitar and wandering out to take a seat among the crowd for the final chorus, a touch indicative, along with his often self-deprecating between song humorous anecdotes, of his relaxed, intimate approach.
On his latest album ‘Rogue State of Mind’ he is backed by the same musicians, drummer Jonas Abrahamasson, bassist Johannes Mattsson and Henning Sernhede on assorted guitars, mandolin and lap steel, he’s equally charismatic, the album (his third, the first long out of print) packed with ringing guitars and big fat anthemic choruses, but suitably balanced by quieter, more reflective moments. The songs largely focus on matters of the heart, both bruised and burnished, as evidenced by the likes of the moody, organ-backed Woman I Love, the sax-honking, soul pop shuffle Dream About You Baby (which references both Sam Cook and Blonde on Blonde) and the stripped down acoustic lost chance of Married Blues with its aching chorus of “I can scare like a ghost, burn like a flame, sing like bird and fall like the rain, when I can turn around time only then will I be happy again”, a female backing singer picking it up for the final go round.
He gets bluesy on Pauper To A King, Abrahammsson’s percussion underpinning the rolling rhythmic groove (at times reminiscent of John Stewart’s Gold) with Sernhede’s lap steel subtle in the background while opener Break The Border is full on air-fisting euphoric chiming heartland rock that reminded me less of Springsteen and more 70s cult heroes the Michael Stanley Band had they been fronted by Tom Russell. Futile Blues follows a similar punchy alt-Americana vein, but the best of the uptempo numbers is arguably the more acoustic based Gettysburg, an imagery-peppered Dylanesque tale of a female 60s folk singing free spirit who ‘danced beneath the rain like random rhythms that drive black dust insane’.
If you prefer things more subdued and downbeat, then direct your ears to the sparse clarinet-accompanied anguish of Bulletproof (which could as easily be a social protest number as a lament about a lover who “gave me a finger when all I wanted was your hand”), the equally emotionally fraught and almost Orbisonesque, steel-streaked Broke Down Train (“if you stay with me tonight, I won’t touch you, that’s a promise”) and the slowbuilding end of relationship closer Little Too Late, its distant, echoing snare and Sernhede’s climactic searing solo enhancing the pleading, impassioned desperation as, in a cracked voice, he sings “I’ll sign anything, I’ll follow any rules”. Building a solid following and already a significant presence on the festival scene, in an age of shooting stars that flare briefly and pass in the night, Thomas is an artist of solid, enduring substance and a real keeper.
Review by: Mike Davies
Out this week via Bucketful of Brains
Order it via Amazon