For his debut record, Benjamin Booker has done more research than most. A lot has been made of him initially having started out as a music journalist before deciding to switch sides and take to the stage himself. No doubt that his years of doing reconnaissance on the industry and craft has helped in creating this album, though his own songwriting prowess boosts this to one of the most promising debuts of the year so far.
Lead single ‘Violent Shiver’ is a contemporary Southern blues-rock anthem in waiting; don’t be surprised if you catch yourself thrashing your headphones off during its driving, intense chorus. As part of an opening trio of songs in a similar vein, colours are expressly nailed to the mast – this is an album for the sweaty, bourbon-drenched nightclubs where hoarse throats and tinnitus are the familiar marks of a good night out. It’s a credit to both his band and producer Andrija Tokic (who also handled Alabama Shakes’ debut) that the kinetic atmosphere of his live shows are well translated to the album. Booker himself may not display the greatest range, though the timbre of his vocals vary from a husky drawl for the more straightforward rock tracks, through to an almost Otis Redding level of smooth for the quieter moments. What’s more impressive is how quickly he can alternate between the two (even mid-song) without it being jarring.
Such diversity is also seen lyrically and to his credit, Booker displays a sincerity to topics that is often lacking in his peers. This is especially impressive when they are as varied as heard in the album. These topics range from a twenty-something’s mix of uncertainty of the future masked in a devil may care attitude in Wicked Waters, to a semi-autobiographical narrative in ‘Have You Seen My Son’, to the closer ‘By the Evening’, where minimalist lyrics are augmented by Booker’s choked vocals. There is never any doubt that each subject is in some way personal to Booker, and is handled with the sincerity needed.
The mini blues-rock revival we’re experiencing appears to be forming a loose fraternity. Alongside sharing a producer with Alabama Shakes, Booker has also recently supported Jack White in a run of concerts. Perhaps this speaks more to the high amount of faith being placed in him as another worthy addition to this renaissance. Judging from this album, Booker has lived up to that confidence and then some.