Release Date: Feb 18, 2014
Record label: Blue Note
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Contemporary Singer/Songwriter
Apart from high-profile guitarist Mike Campbell, keyboard player Tench has been the only constant in Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, while also finding time to record and/or tour with such luminaries as Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, The Rolling Stones and Elvis Costello. A sideman extraordinaire, undoubtedly, but You Should Be So Lucky finds him wearing the spotlight well. Yet while it’s cheering to hear him finding his own voice (albeit not an especially strong one) on a set of self-penned songs amassed over three or more decades, it’s clear that Tench has learned from the great and the good.
As a Heartbreaker and on his own, Benmont Tench defines a supporting musician: versatile, tasteful, and distinctive; enhancing sessions without overwhelming the leader. He's so thoroughly part of a group that it's hard to picture him stepping to the center of the stage, but You Should Be So Lucky -- his 2014 solo debut, released roughly 38 years after the first Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers album -- shows he's an appealingly ragged and relaxed frontman and one who knows not to abandon his core strengths. One of those strengths may not be his vocals -- slightly raspy and slightly sweet, he can carry a tune (he doesn't possess the gravelly croak of, say, Pete Buck), but he lays back, letting the listener come to him, never commanding attention -- but, whether he's choosing a cover or sculpting an original, he has an ear for a good tune, he knows how to color them effectively, and, especially, he knows how to carry out every kind of groove.
A go-to ace for the Stones, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Elvis Costello, Fiona Apple and a ridiculous number of others, Benmont Tench earned his crown via his day job with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Naturally, his solo debut is about impeccable piano and organ – check the E Street-y break on "Today I Took Your Picture Down" and the ruminatively blue instrumental "Ecor Rouge." It also introduces his likably understated vocals (the gentle "Hannah") and songwriting ("Blonde Girl, Blue Dress"). The highlights, however, are "Corrina, Corrina" and "Duquesne Whistle" – Dylan loans that show Tench's unerring ear for shaping other people's material.
Like the ultimate sideman he is, not just to Tom Petty with his 30-something year tenure as Heartbreakers’ keyboardist, but dozens of other high profile stars, Benmont Tench’s first solo album is a humble yet accomplished affair. He doesn’t have much of a voice and his songwriting, while adequate, won’t challenge any of his boss’s work. But there is a comfortable, deliberate, low key vibe to Tench’s disc that feels lived-in and approachable.
After nearly 40 years as a mainstay of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and serving as a session player who’s worked with everyone from Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash to the Rolling Stones and Elvis Costello, a solo album from keyboardist Benmont Tench seems something of an afterthought. Fortunately, as You Should Be So Lucky tends to prove, it’s been well worth the wait. Though his songwriting skills have rarely come to the fore, the quality of the material here — all of which he wrote, save a pair of covers — makes these tunes first rate.