Ben Glover – Shorebound
Proper Records – 4 May 2018
When the prominent slide guitar jumps in front of Ben Glover‘s steady acoustic strum at the beginning of ‘What you love will Break your Heart’, the first track from ‘Shorebound’ his eighth album, it’s clear that the production on this one is more intricate and, in some ways, skilfully busier than previous efforts. Ben says of this one that its sound was partly bred from the experience of ‘having two brilliant guitar players, Kris Donegan and Juan Solarzano, sitting face to face in the studio and working off each other’, but possibly the strongest part of this set is the vocal collaborations on most tracks. This being the album that marks a decade of releases for Glover, meant he wanted to surround himself and the songs with many voices of importance from his career thus far. It’s an approach that Ben has had success with in the past, but with its multi-veneered tracks, the effect is possibly at its strongest on Shorebound.
‘A Wound that Seeks the Arrow’ starts off with a simple finger-picked guitar line that introduces Ben’s voice in its husky strength, but when Nashville native songstress Angel Snow begins the duet, the whole shape of the song is changed and the textures begin to be revealed, firstly with the voices, but then with subtle violin cello and glockenspiel, all working alongside each other through the song. The acoustic guitar remains and there’s even that slide guitar in there somewhere in places, but so much further back it barely suggests itself to the ear. This three-minute beauty is the first on the album to truly showcase the intelligence in the choices of vocal guests and also the immaculate production from Glover and regular colleague Neilson Hubbard.
Things get dark and thrilling on ‘Catbird Seat’, a song that gathered momentum on a trip through Ireland with Mary Gauthier, who also sings here. From when Ben’s first vocal line kicks in here – ‘a hooker on the steps of Trinity Church, high heels pacing in the sun / sweat on her lip, a swagger in her hips, eyes the colour of a gun’ – we know it’s dangerous ground and the band play up to it well, with the slide guitar playing low notes alongside a more fragmented acoustic and sultry low electric guitars duelling (this is the point where we really hear Donegan and Solarzano step up, and it’s ace). But again, when the second vocal comes in, the song goes up another gear, this time into murder ballad territory. It’s a far cry from songs like ‘Northern Stars’, where Ben and singers Malojian and Matt McGinn sound like they have dragged a piano onto a sunny beach with them and had a lovely time, but that’s another strength of the album, allowing such changing moods to co-exist. But, while we are embroiled in darkness and menace, we have another grown-up tune that comes in after ‘Catbird’, this one featuring Gretchen Peters, who Glover successfully worked with on the award-winning song ‘Blackbirds‘, from Peters’ 2015 album. On ‘Dancing with the Beast’ (also soon to be included on Peters’ new album of the same name), the pair sing of a dangerous lover in lowered tones, and begin by sounding like a gothic Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings. The piano here does well to ratchet up the sense of foreboding, and the slight reverb on guitars and vocals effectively adds the eerie element that heads more into drama with the sweeping strings wrapping themselves around the singers.
Elsewhere, the arrangement strips itself bare for Glover’s solo acoustic guitar to support ‘Kindness‘, a beautiful message in how to behave in challenging times. Like with ‘Northern Lights’ and ‘Ride the River’, a pretty an optimistic journey song with Kim Richey, Ben knows how to balance the darkness with the light and, you feel from an underlying confidence in letting the song speak for itself, it comes quite naturally to this musician. Take ‘Song for the Fighting’, with its repeated ‘how much longer can this fighting last? How much stronger can I be than that?’ lines helped along by Hubbard; there is still positivity coming through the weariness of the world, especially with the underlying plead: ‘Tell me what it is you believe in’. That song backs onto the title track, the shortest here at under three minutes and another displaying the strengths of the two guitarists present (I can almost here Clapton’s ‘Wonderful Tonight’ at points here). The lifting melody blends well with Glover’s solo vocal singing a simple message of ‘knowing that between us everything’s gonna be okay’ on a song that could have been lost in the mix of heavy hitters, if it wasn’t so sweet and the playing so clear and precise throughout. It then becomes one of the strongest and must have been in contention for album-closing duties.
Instead, after penultimate track ‘My Shipwrecked Friend’, which boldly mixes a very American sounding slide guitar part with a quite traditional-themed maritime lament, the album does close with ‘Keeper of my Heart’, an acoustic number that begins with a guitar part that could be straight from Appalachia. Here the focal point of the title is ambiguous, as so much of Shorebound is subtly directed towards the idea of belonging. He may well be singing to a human, but just as easily this one could be considered a homage to the sense of place that Ben has discovered (‘the stillness of my soul, the flesh around my bones, the earth, the dirt, the stones’), which works nicely with the feeling of settledness that runs through this set, both in the subjects and solid musical arrangements.
Shorebound is the sound of Ben Glover planting one foot firmly in his hometown of Glenarm, Northern Ireland and the other just as firmly in Nashville, Tennessee. The resulting recording is one that oozes confidence and skill. The production is assured, the playing excellent and the singing at points very beautiful. This is a worthy piece of work from a class act.
Shorebound is released on 4th May 2018 via Proper Records.
Order here http://smarturl.it/shorebound
Ben Glover Tour Dates
Thursday, May 10 – King’s Place (special guest to Mary Gauthier), London,England
Friday, May 11 – Carlisle Folk And Blues Club, Carlisle, England
Saturday, May 12 – The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen, Scotland
Sunday, May 13 – Rose Theatre, Edinburgh, Scotland
Tuesday, May 15 – Kitchen Garden Cafe, Birmingham, England
Wednesday, May 16 – Everyting Good Goes, Tadcaster, England
Thursday, May 17 – King’s Place (special guest to Mary Gauthier), London, England
Friday, May 18 – Coastal Connections, Worthing, England
Saturday, May 19 – Cambridge Junction, Cambridge, England
Saturday, May 26 – McGrory’s, Culdaff, Ireland
Thursday, May 31 – Larne Town Hall, Larne, N.Ireland
Friday, June 1 – The Black Box, Belfast, N.Ireland
Tuesday, June 5 – Paradiso, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Thursday, June 7 – Musemix @ Engels, The Hague, The Netherlands
Friday, June 8 – Le Brocope, Olderberkoop, The Netherlands
Saturday, June 9 – In The Woods, Leusden, The Netherlands
Sunday, July 15 – Dalraida Festival, Glenarm, N.Ireland