There’s something genuinely exciting about Benjamin Booker. An attitude, an edge, maybe a vulnerability too – a sense that it’s only just all holding together. You’re not going to relax much listening to his self-titled debut, worried that this incendiary device could go off at any minute. And that’s how he wants it.
Sure, we could sit here and pick holes in the technical merit of some of the noise he makes, but that’s missing the point. Booker blends strands of blues, rock and roll, country and folk, but is not interested in being restrained by any of them as he cranks out a fuzzy mess. It’s not hard to figure out why Jack White has taken him on tour.
The brashness of this two piece – Booker plays with only a drummer, Max Norton – is what captures your attention, but there’s more to this album than that alone. ‘Slow Coming’ hints at the fragility and complexity of his character, which seems – on this first evidence at least – reminiscent of troubled troubadour Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson. We can only hope he proves a more sustainable proposition than one who has disappeared all too soon.
‘Violent Shiver’ – the opener and first single – and ‘Happy Home’ are the only vaguely radio friendly moments, but scant attention is paid to such things elsewhere. Instead passions rage on the likes of ‘Old Hearts’ and the intense, angry ‘Kids Never Growing Older’ – the roughness of the sound smoothed by Booker’s other weapon: a remarkable voice.
The start of the closer ‘By The Evening’ sounds like it could have been rescued from the vaults of blues section of the Library of Congress vaults, but it soon builds with a layer of electric guitar wailing away in the background until it explodes to bring the album to its climax.
In the past I’ve had a temptation to almost apologise for reviewing such music on FFS – albums where the folk influence, while clearly present, has been all but clubbed to death under layers of distortion. But there’s no apology for this – it’s something worth hearing. Sure, it’s not without fault. The rough and ready nature of it leads to the odd mistake, but the statement of intent is clear. One to watch.