Benjamin Booker

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Benjamin Booker’s s/t debut was an album that exploded out of the speakers – full of youthful exuberance, guitars wailing, Booker’s grizzled voice belting out vocals – in what was one of my favorite albums of 2014. But as is wont to happen, people get older and their outlook on life changes.

For Booker, that took place in Mexico, during one of the strangest fucking years we’ll ever see in America (wishful thinking). At the top of his press release is a James Baldwin quote, “Once you find yourself in another civilization you are forced to examine your own.” It was during his time in Mexico that Booker realized that he wasn’t there to clear his head and start writing. He was there running from the issues, and for a young black man – racism is at the forefront of those issues.

So how did this clarity affect his sophomore effort. All in all, it just feels more mature, more measured and more soulful (having Mavis Staples on the title track is a good way to accomplish that). There’s some good and bad to that as part of what made the debut so damn enjoyable was the devil may care attitude that comes with being young and thinking your invincible.

Witness is an excellent album and a damn ambitious album for a young artist. Booker could have easily cranked out another album of guitar heavy, blues-infused rockers. Instead he dug deep and put forth a challenging album that bodes well for his career. Like Sound & Color by Alabama Shakes, It shows an artist willing to test the boundaries.

Follow me on Twitter at @WoodyHearYa or @HearYa

Benjamin Booker is here

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Benjamin Booker’s debut was an absolute powerhouse of an album. Seeing him live will leave your jaw on the floor. He is force of nature both in his guitar playing and his vocals. His sophomore album will be out on 6/2 via the fine folks at ATO. He’ll be down at SXSW. If you have a chance to see him and his band, do so.

On ‘Witness,’ Booker has created his most ambitious work yet by digging deep into his passion for eccentric soul, R&B, and blues – drawing on everything from William Onyeabor’s 70s African psych-rock to Freddie Gibbs and Pusha T, while never straying too far from the garage-punk intensity that made his self-titled 2014 debut such a creative breakthrough. The album’s ten new, original tracks were all written by Booker, produced by Sam Cohen (Kevin Morby), and mixed by Shawn Everett (Alabama Shakes).

Follow me on Twitter at @WoodyHearYa or @HearYa

Benjamin Booker is here

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Benjamin Booker – s/t debut [album review]

by Woody on August 13, 2014

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There are acts you see/hear for the first time and you just know. Last time, I felt like this was with Alabama Shakes. Like the Shakes, Booker had booked a set at the excellent club Space in Evanston. And I was determined not to miss that show; solo or with others. In the end, only my buddy Mike attended with me. As we walked out after a blistering hour-long set, I said, “In a few years, we’ll be bragging that we saw Benjamin Booker in a place that small.”

The buzz machine is in full swing the New Orleans resident, and on this occasion; they are spot on. For those who didn’t get hooked by Booker’s lead single, Violent Shiver, he plays a stew of blues, garage and soul. Like Brittany Howard, Booker’s voice belies his age of 21. It is soaked in whiskey and grizzled by smokes. And to see that sort of stage presence at such a young age is special. During that show, he played a slow-burner aptly titled, Slow Coming. Booker would let the music wash over him interjecting his vocals at a whisper, then more forceful at always ; before finishing with a fuzzed out feedback of a solo.

Have You Seen My Son is an explosive five minute jam where Booker pays homage to guitar heroes before him. The transition at about 3 minutes in is simply out of this world. The buildup is gets the hair standing on the backup of your neck before dissolving into a cacophony of feedback. And then like a phoenix, the riff re-emerges. If that doesn’t get the blood moving around in your veins, you might want to make an appointment with your doc.

Where Booker goes from here is anybody’s guess. He’s got talent to spare and you can only envision greatness for him. I consider myself lucky to have seen him play a mere 5 feet in front of me.

Follow me on Twitter at @WoodyHearYa

Benjamin Booker is here

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Every once in awhile you click on a video and are given such a jolt that you almost fry your motherboard. Watching Violent Shiver was one of those occasions. So then I watched it again and again.

Booker has signed to ATO and will be releasing his full-length later this year. The PR piece described it as garage-blues. Sure, that works. You could go with a ripping rock tune that delivers a wallop. He’s touring all over the place opening up for DBT, Hurray For the Riff Raff and Jack White. In fact, I got shut out of the Jack White shows in Chicago and was up in the air on whether to pony up for StubHub. After seeing this, I am in.

Follow me on Twitter at @WoodyHearYa

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