Born in Ontario and now resident in Nova Scotia, robust and lusty are two words that most readily spring to mind in describing the splendidly bearded Ben Caplan’s throaty bellowing performance style as he plunges into the folk roots belly for a sophomore stew of fifty shades of Americana produced by klezmer-rapper Josh “Socalled” Doglin and featuring an army of collaborators that include harp, darbouka and cimbalom players, Joe Grass on pedal steel and horns legend Fred Wesley.
Blazing along on a banjo riff, clarinet and percussive drums, the title track, hits the ground running, the extremism-themed lyrics (which throw in a reference to Moses) almost struggling to keep up with Caplan’s delivery, romping from Appalachian bluegrass to Slavic folk, slowing down midway for a wander down French sidestreets with an accordion before being caught up in a melee of fiddle and mariachi horns, finally collapsing in a resonating guitar heap. However, before you can catch your breath, he’s off down the carny, riding the waltzer for the gypsy colours of I Got A Woman with its banjo, fiddle, la da da da da da chorus and soft female vocals offsetting his barker tones.
Things calm down after this, splendidly so, with Belly of the Worm, a slow piano ballad waltz where Tom Waits’s vaudeville meets Randy Newman’s New Orleans, the mood of the former echoed in the sleazy cabaret Under Control, a song guessingly about the bankers who fiddled while the stock exchange burned. A similar apocalyptic tone and Weimar musical setting informs Dusk, a horns awash end of gasoline days warning about relying on an oil economy, while Caplan’s sour vision of a self-consuming world is brilliantly encapsulated in both the sparse and spooked Devil Town where everyone turns out to be vampires and the line “you always eat the mother after drinking her milk” on Deliver Me, a song that bears a close gospel blues kinship to Sixteen Tons.
The blues are there too on the brass hefted, muscular 40 Days & 40 Nights, but if Caplan’s vocals rise up from the depths of his gut here, he also surprises by revealing a crooner side on the 30s vibe of the jazzy mid-tempo swing of Night Like Tonight with its woodwinds, brass and strings and the album’s romantic piano ballad closer, a cover of A A Bondy’s Lover’s Waltz, his voice soaring to the heavens in heartfelt manner as he sings “I will hang for you, and you will hang for me. And the northern lights will take us in like refugees” over an arrangement best described as a slowed down Born To Run. Only his second album (his first featured a fine version of Fairytale of New York with Katzenjammer), Caplan’s just getting into his stride. Can you even begin to imagine how sensational he’ll be by the time the next comes around!
Review by: Mike Davies
Birds With Broken Wings Released March 4th via Coalition Music / Ada
Pre-order via Amazon
photo credit: Mark Maryanovich