The Bloodred Yonder, the latest offering from Ben Rogeres, is apparently about “the transition from life to death, good to evil, paradise to perdition, and all the lost souls you meet along the way”, the raspy-voiced Canadian clearly doesn’t believe in singing about fripperies. For his sophomore album, he’s recruited a four-piece backing band that features City and Color’s Matt Kelly on pedal steel and keys and Frazey Ford drummer Leon Power with Erik Nielsen on bass and John Sponarski on lead guitar, putting them to the service of a set of outlaw country songs that tip the hat to Waylon Jennings and Neil Young alike.
Wild Roses kicks the set off in twangy form with a Garden of Eden/Cain and Abel referencing tale in which the narrator crushes his brother’s head with their father’s gravestone because he stole his lover. “In every man there is murder”, he sings cheerfully, deftly sliding into the boogie piano rocking Wanted, a list song in which he’s wanted by everybody from the police to Jesus Christ, “but I’m not wanted by you”.
Goodtime uptempo numbers like the express train rolling Panhandler and Don’t Buy Me Roses are offset by more brooding fare such as the pedal-steel keening ballads Goodbye Rosa Lee and the waltzing Sinners, while River shows off his muscular, big building anthemic side and six-minute closer slow sway Darling Please, with its speak-sing delivery against an organ and acoustic guitar, plays like a sort of country Leonard Cohen before climaxing in a cosmic psychedelic sonic storm.
I’m not persuaded this is the stuff of which alt-country stars are made, but anyone who has a playful words of wisdom song like The More I Learn that sports the line “My dog took a shit and I went to pick it up, but there was a hole in the bag. The same thing happens when I’m picking up the pieces of my past”, has to be worth a listen.
Review by: Mike Davies
Ben is currently in the UK for a string of tour dates, details of which can be found here: benrogersmusic.com/shows
UK Release on 16 November via Tonic Records