Monday, December 11, 2017

Ben Brookes - The Motor Car & The Weather Balloon (2017)

Written by Raymond Burris, posted by blog admin

The release The Motor Car & The Weather Balloon from Ben Brookes might sport a relatively unwieldy title, but there’s not an ounce of fat on even one of the songs and Brookes’ vocal performance is one of the overall best on a studio recording in the last two decades. His songwriting skills are equally strong both musically and lyrically – Brookes’ words often reveal more than they say and listeners can glean his meaning from much the material while still being able to walk away with meanings of their own. Producer and former Badfinger member Mark Healey shepherds these songs in such a way that the sonic blueprint brings out the best in each one and certainly invests his voice with warmth and enough edge to captivate any listener. Another former Badfinger member Joey Molland makes significant musical contributions to the release and he’s joined by equally important contributors’ keyboardist Greg Inhofer and drummer Michael Bland.

The subtle light and shade personifying much of his songwriting mood finds its earliest expression with the opener “I Wanna Go Home”. Much of The Motor Car & The Weather Balloon is defined by acoustic guitars mixed with a dollop of lead electric guitar added for good measure and come off sometimes as slightly super charged folk rock numbers. Other times they recall Brookes’ obvious influences like The Beatles and some not so quite obvious influences like Cat Stevens’ work from his prime years. The opener falls into the second of those two types and has a distinct English presence all the more marvelously considering the album was, essentially, brought to life in a midwestern American studio. Other effective tunes in the acoustic vein are the lyrical wide-lens on “Integration (Not Segregation)”, “Asleep in Galilee”, and “Before Sunlight”. The final two of the aforementioned trio are among the finest moments on the album and will likely hold a place in any set list he performs for the rest of his career. The last track, “Before Sunlight”, is an especially stunning tune thanks to its powerful vocal melody and the resulting performance from Brookes, but “Asleep in Galilee” has inexorable internal movement that will enchant a number of listeners and a winning vocal from Brookes.

The second half of the album finds Brookes stretching out a little and making the electric guitar more a focal point of his recordings. “Stories in the Rain” and the second to last song on the album “Somewhere Around Eight” are both excellent numbers with appropriately physical guitar and especially passionate vocals from Brookes. The folky vibe mentioned earlier makes its presence felt for a final time on the song “Siren” and the closer “Shackles” mixes a relatively downbeat lyrical message with some more of the bright instrumentation that defines the release. There’s some particularly evocative lead guitar scattered throughout the second half of “Shackles” that helps make it even more ideal of a closer. The Motor Car & The Weather Balloon is one of the most complete rock and pop releases in the last two decades and it is no stretch to say that Ben Brookes is poised to establish himself as one of the genre’s more formidable talents.

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