January 23rd, 2023 – 9:00 AM
Brendan Benson does it all
Nashville-based songman and multi-instrumentalist Brendan Benson has released his follow-up – or, according to an interview with Tinnitist, in his words, coda – to his 2020 record Dear Life, cleverly titled Low Key. And low key it is, running at just a few seconds over the 30 minute mark with eight songs to its name.
The power pop maestro known mostly for his collaborations with Jack White and their band The Raconteurs draws from a number of influences, allowing Benson to deftly portray his musical versatility – from 2000s R&B to McCartney tinged ballads, Benson doesn’t miss a beat.
Intricately layered harmonies shimmer throughout the opener, titled “Ain’t No Good” as a clipped Fatboy Slim-esque piano motif meshes with vocals saturated with vibrato as Benson climbs into his falsetto, exhibiting a range he seldom features elsewhere on the album. The beat is easy and simple, throbbing throughout at a steady pace before leading into the mellower, Elliott Smith imbued “I Missed the Plane.”
The ballad lives in a minor key, appropriately setting the scene as Benson details the bittersweet regret he feels as he laments “I miss the meaning, I miss the pain.” The song inches towards what the listener might believe to be a climax, though it, rather fittingly, never actually comes – just as what may happen when reminiscing on past failures, regrets and grievances, there is often no answer.
“People Grow Apart” continues the stripped-down feel of the previous track until an electric guitar and cymbals crash in at the chorus, the simplicity of the lyricism mostly giving way to the instrumental. It’s the longest original track on the album, giving way to the actual lengthiest number, a cover of Gerry Rafferty’s ‘70s hit “Right Down the Line,” a tune which enjoyed a resurgence in popularity after utilized in HBO’s hit series Euphoria, though Benson seems apprehensive to put his own spin on the song. While his vocals certainly differ from Rafferty’s, stylistically the two don’t stray far from one another.
The other cover on the record, however, Benson takes creative liberty by the reigns and puts his own spin on rapper Nasty C’s “All In,” exchanging Nasty C’s yearning strings for a driving chord progression on the electric guitar, but maintaining the head-bopping percussion woven through the original.
The final track on the record is by and large the most sonically and texturally gripping, taking a break from windmill guitars and the indie rock sound Benson has made his name in. A swanky, early ‘00s R&B strum creeps in as Benson, much like the beginning, stacks harmonies atop of one another as he concedes, “And everything we need is all right here, yeah / So let the good times roll and let’s both disappear.” His falsetto reappears, appearing as yet another parallel to the opener, perfectly bookending the record as the tune melancholically fades out.
Low Key leaves a bit to be desired, though it certainly makes an impressive mark on Benson’s discography, as each of the tracks have only his name to credit aside from the two covers. That being said, the listener can’t help but wish for a bit of a lengthier follow-up considering it had been over two years since his 2020 release. All in all, Benson makes it clear that he is more than proficient in his craft as a song-maker – instrumentalist, producer, vocalist and all – and there’s still lots to be devoured and dissected, making for a worthwhile half hour.
[READ FULL BIO]