Like gumbo and jazz before him, 22-year-old Benjamin Booker is the latest smoky compound fused from the sanctified streets of New Orleans to seduce our senses.
His is a sound that draws faithfully from the blues and raw soul that ebbs its way down the Mississippi, but like the river’s mighty undercurrent, it mercurially pulls and bends, dragging in grungy remnants of White Stripes-like turbulence. Indeed, this self-titled debut is largely the work of a duo (Booker and drummer Max Norton), yet defies their limits with its droning, thunderous enormity.
Booker’s rugged voice blazes through the scorched landscape, howling in like a storm in pounding opener ‘Violent Shiver’ and through the Strokes-like ‘Always Waiting’. Equally riotous, ‘Wicked Waters’ evokes early Kings Of Leon, while ‘Kids Never Growing Older’ is a deafening waltz – “You ask me, do I forgive you?” he sings, his responding riffs, harsh and crashing, suggest not.
In the more restrained moments, Booker is still barbed. The gentle organ that lies underneath ‘Slow Coming’ soothes his bleak admissions: “To tell you the truth,” he laments, “I ain’t been sleeping too well.” ‘I Thought I Heard You Screaming’, meanwhile, counters the protagonist’s noise with Booker’s hushed tones, tumbling breathlessly out over delicate finger-picked guitar, cracking with emotion at times.
The dynamics are unpredictable and intriguing; his tortured soul laid bare expresses the frustration and confusion he’s surely wrestled with, and hopefully learning to overcome. An electrifying introduction to the future of the blues.
Words: Simon Harper
- - -
- - -