Sunday, 15 May 2022

Album Review: Benny and Friends - Benny Time

I was very excited to receive an advance copy of the new album from the remarkable Benny Time which will be released worldwide later this month. Benny is an artist who clearly cares about the community, and who has a proven track record of helping other musicians. It is no wonder that so many kindie artists welcomed the opportunity to perform on this album. He has managed to amalgamate a phenomenal team of musicians here, who have added their expertise to create something really special. His overall ethos clearly succeeds in leaving the impression that we are all friends, are all connected and all depend on each other to survive on this crazy planet. 

"The Do Song" wastes no time in introducing a host of stars keen to join the party and add their own unique musical style to the proceedings. The door is always open here, and everyone is welcome, including none other than The Beanies, Tiptoe Giants, Lah-Lah and Justine Clarke. Yes, you heard me correctly, a host of amazing artists who seemingly pop round out of the blue for a quick singalong, culminating in a wonderful cacophony of sound. This is a quite unorthodox way to begin an album, but it must have been great fun to put together, and as the story unfolds, this turn of events seemingly inspires Benny with the lyrics for the next song.

"Cars Are Everywhere" arrives straight out of the seventies, with its full-on punk arrangement, which reminded me a little of "Fast Cars" by the Buzzcocks. Anyone remember them? A full throttled vocal delivered into a melting microphone, with guitars ripping through the track like a chainsaw. There is precious little time to pause for breath here, as the artist provides a no-nonsense piece of minimalist rock, and does so with heaps of attitude. Clearly Benny is also in step with what is going on in the US independent scene at the moment, with a song that would sit well on an Esther Crowe album.

"A Little Recycling Adventure" provides an unexpected twist to the proceedings with an interesting diversion into gospel music, courtesy of the superb vocals of the East Coast Inspirational Singers. The song is brimming with pop sensibility, wrapped in a glorious sea of stirring melody throughout. There is a great message here too, emphasising the fact that we probably all have more than enough stuff, and maybe it's time to 'put out the trash and put it on repeat'.  This is a truly uplifting song, with wonderful instrumentation throughout. I particularly like the bass playing, and the way it blends its funky intricacy with such potent melodic input.

"He Needs to Wee" certainly takes the listener by surprise, adding a twist of levity to the proceedings. Here the artist attempts to narrate a beautiful picturesque scene, but is interrupted constantly by the inconvenience of a full bladder, barging in on the song because of 'a need to wee'. Clearly Benny doesn't take himself too seriously, reminding the discerning listener that the kids often tend to appreciate slapstick.

"Cars Are Everywhere" resurfaces once again, providing a high intensity trip down memory lane, with a unique blend of rockabilly and surf pop, which is sure to get your foot tapping. The irrepressible Bree from B Minor Music introduces the song, encouraging the artist to embark on a hectic car journey, in order to witness what I assume is some kind of record breaking surfing event. An energetic almost tribal drum pattern then dominates the sound, along with a clean guitar lick adding additional melodic intrigue. There's so much excitement on display here, as the artist collaborates in an intense piece of minimalist rock, with additional guitars courtesy of Papa Surf.

"Little Grey Clouds" is more laid back, and is essentially a piece of poetry recited to music. Featuring some beautiful acoustic guitar, and a haunting harmony, the song whisks the listener away in a sea of melancholy, where emotions are stirred, heart strings are pulled and we are reminded 'it's okay to cry'. The song clearly benefits from the input of Claudia Robin Gunn, who adds some scintillating harmonies throughout. Although the song is gentle and melancholy, it gradually builds in intensity culminating in a truly magnificent crescendo at the end. 

"The River" is my absolute favourite track on the album, and is clearly enhanced by the inspired vocals of the Itty Bitty BeatsThe music is almost jaunty at times, featuring some nimble guitar playing, a melodic piano and some very subtle drumming. The song is both catchy and original, and manages to captivate the listener throughout. Perhaps rekindling fond memories of exotic destinations from the past, and a time when there was nothing to do and all day to do it. Truly marvellous.

"Stepping Stones" has a lively laid back groove, which proceeds in good old country fashion, with a sprightly banjo and a hypnotic bass competing for space. I really like the melody on this song, which is further reinforced by some inspiring lyrics, which describe the landscape with considerable expertise. Perhaps most importantly the lyrics highlight how we can all share this beautiful land, learn from each other and ultimately 'grow'. The song also features the delightful Aunty Trace, a Bundjalung Mulungiali elder, who recites some eloquent poetic verse towards the end of the track. The song ultimately provides a sense of poetic justice, emphasising how 'our culture is like stepping stones' 'where the knowledge and sharing all go round'. 

"How Great Are We" continues with this melancholy mood, and does so with some assistance from Loopy Tunes another fabulous duo from New Zealand. The song begins with a haunting melody, and some intricate rhythms providing the perfect backdrop for the vocals to take centre stage. The song shifts gears about half way through, providing an anthemic embrace between vocal and instrumentation. The song ultimately succeeds in creating a reciprocal vocal arrangement, where we can all join in, with perhaps shades of Ben Lee on display.

It is at this point that "Cars Are Everywhere" returns once more with a delightful introduction from Story Surprise. This time the lyrics are recited over a somewhat jazz infused musical arrangement. I wonder if the number of songs referencing the ubiquitous impact of cars carries a veiled environmental warning, I guess we may never know. What we do know, is that this version both musically and lyrically is in complete contrast to the two previous songs which share the same title. However, this is an album with no shortage of surprises, where seemingly anything can happen at any time. The music keeps the audience guessing, wondering which road the artist will take us on next, confident in the fact that it will be somewhere interesting.

"Good Morning" is essentially a gentle ballad recited to a young child, who has clearly just awoken, ready for a new day. I am sure most parents could relate to this song, which features an alluring string section, along with what sounds like a double bass sparring with a delicate piano. The lyrics are heart-warming and optimistic, visualising a  world less hectic and intense than the one most of us inhabit in the big city. Here we get 'to play and run free' because 'today is your day'.

All in all a truly wonderful collection of songs, which serve to stir the emotions and lift the spirits throughout. The album is both heart-warming and even comical at times, providing an eclectic selection of songs that continuously surprise. The artist moves seamlessly from punk to gospel, to country to folk without breaking sweat. Benny Time clearly has a lively imagination and a big heart, which has enabled him to create an album which is both intoxicating and original. A true artist, and a true gentleman, who manages to create harmony not just in his music, but also in the wider community. I take my hat off to him. 

Benny Time - we're all in this together.

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