Release Date: Aug 19, 2014
Record label: ATO
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Everyone knows how foolish it is to buy into hype, but that doesn’t mean it’s not sometimes warranted. In the case of 22-year-old Benjamin Booker the buzz is spot on. This self-titled debut is the mark of a true talent, one that’s still raw and real, but also confident and fully formed at the same time. Built on a foundation of blues, soul and rock’n’roll, those genres effortless combine on these 12 tracks, snaking into and around each other in a whirl of honest, earnest emotion.
Benjamin Booker has blasted onto the scene seemingly out of nowhere. After being snapped up by Rough Trade, and just after the release of his first single, he was invited to perform on Late Show with David Letterman and then was promptly handpicked by Jack White to play as support act on his American tour. It may appear to some that there is a lot riding on this young man from New Orleans and that a lot of success has come his way without him having done a lot to warrant it.
Black Keys' frontman Dan Auerbach and Jack White might want to watch their backs: the 22-year old Florida-raised, New Orleans-based guitarist and singer Benjamin Booker is muscling into the blues-rock league. On this debut, his prickly, raspy voice coats forlorn songs about longing and self-discovery that have an almost evangelical take on life's moments of drudgery. Singing with a maturity beyond his years, he crafts hooks that pay homage to Robert Johnson, Sam Cooke and the shambolic punk he grew up listening to.
Benjamin Booker starts off where Rough Trade label mates Alabama Shakes’ 2012 southern-blues extravaganza finished. Born in Virginia, Booker honed his craft in the southern states, moving to New Orleans and channelling the smorgasbord of musical culture that the area has to offer into his writing. What results is an album that is southern rock at its best, awash with bluesy Americana and Chuck Berry-esque 50’s rock and roll.
You could take new Rough Trade charge Benjamin Booker as an open book: bourbon-drenched vocals, thrift-store chic and a New Orleans base on the banks of the Mississippi. His debut lives and breathes the Deep South, from the Chuck Berry references (most effective on opener ‘Violent Shiver’) to the slower, more hushed tones of ‘I Thought I Heard You Screaming’, which sees Booker take his vocal cues straight from Bobbie Gentry’s late-’60s peak. It’s also something of a love affair with the guitar, with Booker and his band firing off Zep-style grandiosity (‘Have You Seen My Son?’), proper Bolan pomp (‘Happy Homes’) and, on ‘Wicked Waters’, a reworking of Eddie Cochran’s ’50s classic ‘Twenty Flight Rock’.
"Fucking up on a five-year bender," Benjamin Booker growls on "Violent Shiver," a song that sounds something like the Strokes if they'd been suckled on moonshine in a juke joint. A New Orleans-based, Jack White-endorsed 25-yearold with an open sore of a voice and a love of distorted boogie-blues shredding, Booker is grafting new shoots into roots music. On the twisted ballad "Spoon Out My Eyeballs," he croaks, "I would listen to the radio/If I liked songs produced by 40-year-olds in high-tech studios." Then he proves his point with a seizure-inducing rave-up – a flashback to the days when wild-eyed young guitar-slingers made the most dangerous dance music around.
Benjamin BookerBenjamin Booker(ATO)3 out of 5 stars Infusing blues basics with punky, garage guitar rock wasn’t even new when the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, the White Stripes or the Black Keys started making the genre cool for the Y generation. And Florida’s Benjamin Booker isn’t taking it anywhere it hasn’t already been on his high profile, stripped down debut for Dave Matthews’ label. But by adding a bit of Velvet Underground-styled repeated riffing, throaty, grainy vocals and an aesthetic that can best be described as raggedy to the bare bones formula, he’s being hailed as the next big thing.
Benjamin Booker comes from the same neck of the woods as Hurray for the Riff Raff – that's New Orleans – and shares the same pugnacious, scuffed-up roots sensibility as Alabama Shakes. With this punk blues bent and his guitar and percussion set-up (with drummer Max Norton), it's no surprise that he is touring the States with Jack White. So Booker has undeniable appeal; it's particularly hard not to love a three-minute ditty called Spoon Out My Eyeballs.
Benjamin Booker (ATO) "Where I'm going, I never know," declares Benjamin Booker at the outset of his debut LP, the sharp kicker to the opening salvo of an immaculately cascading riff beckoning Chuck Berry. Benjamin Booker enthusiastically reels amid the unpredictable and unrestrained, the 25-year-old New Orleans-via-Florida songwriter's guitar ripping to drummer Max Norton's unbridled punk percussion. Excitement exhumes the reckless interplay between tradition and the innovation of an electrified juke joint in commencing double shot "Violent Shiver" and trembling "Always Waiting.
The self-titled debut album by Benjamin Booker begins with an avalanche set in motion by a guitar riff. Tribal drums join the commotion, then a grainy voice. "Where I'm goin', I never know." The singer doesn't sound upset or confused. "We found a way," he declares, comfortable in the chaos he and his tiny two-man band have created.