9 July 2017

Benjamin Booker - Witness

Back in 2014, I was quietly advised by a good friend that I had missed one of the gigs of the year.  It was a little known blues man who had just shown the local blues elite how it should be done, he basically chewed them out and took their beer, money and lover companion.  That man, was Benjamin Booker.  I listened (and reviewed - link to the review here) his self titled debut a few days later, gentle weeping into my soul that I had missed this gig.  Since then, Mr Booker has tour relentlessly across the world, he has appeared on countless TV shows and he has been make friends and influencing people all over the globe.  Since then, I have been anticipating this album, it finally saw the light on 2nd June 2017 and it has been getting great reviews.  So, let us find out what all the fuss is about......

01 - Right on You

Right from the beginning, you can hear a change in production values when compared to 'Benjamin Booker', the ragged edges of the previous album have been replaced with a smoother sound.  It was a little bit of a shock at first, but after a while it does start to show its charm.  The opening noise with a fat bass sound, the noise of the guitar going through an effects peddle, the tight drumming, it is an impressive sound and it introduces the album with a bang!

02 - Motivation

'Motivation' drops all that new sound and the energy turned down, stripping it back to basics with the acoustic guitar is out, there are luscious strings added to the sound and it is a beautiful ballad.  We find a man questioning his own existence, his purpose and how it is hard to avoid your destiny.  You can read a lot into these lyrics, they are saying so many things for such a simple song.  I keep finding my mind changing on it, I keep finding different meanings and it makes this song an enigma to me.  I love it, but it has a chameleon edge to it.

03 - Witness

Mr Booker introduces Gospel to this album, it also introduces the theme of race to the album as well.  This song is a heavy indictment of the current state of the world, the fact that people of colour are still being held down in ways that are often inhuman, profiled in ways that are inhuman and treat like second class citizens.  It asks the listener if you are just going to be a witness, or are you going to do more and stand up against these crimes.  It is a powerful number, one that gets to the root of problems in the world and hits homes each time.

04 - The Slow Drag Under

'The Slow Drag Under' is a slow number with descent oppression at its core, the feeling of hitting the ground which comes from being keep down by society and it is handled with a maturity that outshines Mr Booker's relatively young years.  It is another hard hitter, a number that will make you think and that is always welcome in my book.

05 - Truth Is Under

A song about an abusive man who is also a victim, this is a strange number to be honest.  One that explores how people can be two things at once, both being equally fitting to the situation.  There is a gospel feeling to this song, another that demands you see what is happening and make your own opinion about it.  It has a strange production in places to these ears, but it is still a good song.

06 - Believe

We have more gospel-blues infusion with 'Believe', exploring the themes of inequality and racism further and sounding both hopeful and defeated in equal measure.  It is a great number, one of the most powerful of the album with its heart breaking message and timeless sound.  It needs to be played daily, it needs to have its message heard far and wide, as it makes the heart heavy that there are people in the world for who this situation is a daily reality.  One of the most powerful songs on this album, stunning.

07 - Overtime

Daily survival is the theme of 'Overtime', mixed with an upbeat number that disguises the pain with a false smile, a brave exterior whilst the lyrics show the inner turmoil.  It is a good song, a perfectly formed number which on its own sounds beautiful.  It does follow on from the strongest song on the album, but I think any track would have struggled on that one.

08 - Off the Ground

A song of two distinct styles, 'Off the Ground' is a hybrid number that harks back to 'Benjamin Booker' with a hunger and drive that made the boy become a man in front of our eyes on that fierce debut. It is a great number, one that combines the gentle and aggressive side of Mr Booker's styles, one that gives the album a late adrenaline shot.

09 - Carry

The penultimate song 'Carry' is a slow number about how the struggle can be too much at times, all the fault and glories are on display with a brutal honesty.  It is a heartbreaker, a soul searcher and it is a wonderful number.  Once again, you are considering your own role in the world, wishing to improve who you are as a person upon hearing this harrowing tale.  I cannot speak highly enough about this song, it is another stunning number.

10 - All Was Well

The ending of 'Witness' is a short number, one that does not sound traditional in any sense of the word.  It is brimming with a tension, but the music is minimal and it feels like it is going to explode at any moment. It feels like all the tension is building throughout the song and it does not reach an explosive ending, it reaches one where everything reaches a zen moment and the aggression is turned into focus, it is turned into strength and the begging is turned into a promise.  It is a strong and bold way to end this album, it is another thought provoking song on this album.

This album is a brilliant album, one that is full of protest, passion and the blues.  But as good as it sounds, there is a sense of shame that this album still needs to be made.  As human beings, you would have thought in the year 2017 that race relations were at a point where this record was required.  It is a protest record, one that deals in subjects that people will feel uncomfortable listening to and it is brilliant.  The repression of recent years is creating a generation of musicians who are willing to speak up, to do more than bear witness and Benjamin Booker is one of those musicians.  Any faults?  Nothing that I would comment on to be honest, the album has some strange production to these ears, but that does not take away from the power of the songs.  I cannot praise this album enough, it is a beautiful and brave record.

9 out of ten - Almost perfect, almost......

Top track - Believe

You can purchase Witness from Amazon here.

You can visit the Benjamin Booker website here.

You can follow the activities of Benjamin Booker on Facebook here.

You can stream Witness on Spotify here.

You can stream Witness on Deezer here.

You can stream Witness on Tidal here.

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