New Music – Benjamin Mullins ‘American Folk’

With tender strum and emotive vocals every track feels like the loving caress of a dear friend. This is folk that feels, it has an acute and crisp soulful sound that lends gravity to the weight of the words.

The production on the album is faultless with HD audio so sharp you can hear the stroke of each finger deftly dancing along the strings and fretboard. There is a beautiful resonant hum to the silent void in the gaps of the soundscape that bursts with a jubilant flare when the next note hits.

The album opens with ‘Hold The Dark‘ which cascades through the speaker with the gripping and tender emotive urgency that the rest of the album builds, sustains, and holds as a cherished loved one. It introduces us to the soft and sumptuous vocal work, as well as the beautiful soundscaping and layering of the instrumentation that lets each song lilt and linger growing in power like a dream or memory.

Each song has this surreal and hazy tone that comes into focus as it evolves bringing in more instrumentation to pick out melodies in the shadow and echo to flesh out the sound. With ‘Friday Night‘ Benjamin Mullins is able to show off a bit more of his upper range carefully belting out the soothing whisper of a late night argument and the apology and regret of the morning after.

The pluck of the joyous pizzicato strings in the intro to ‘American Folk‘ quickly establish why the song is the title track of the album. Lyrically it is a beautifully woven narrative that spans the decades and is peopled with rich characterisation and trad-folk storytelling. The instrumentation does its best to outshine the vocals and lyricism though with a skipping ditty that matches the mood masterfully.

As a public service announcement you should avoid staying too long under the ‘Coconut Tree‘ as taking a falling furry conk to the head is a deadly proposition. That said however, the beckoning hootenanny and call to dance of this track makes for an enticing invitation and there are few that could truly ignore the call. The bluegrass flavour to the track marks a wholly different flavour and is great example of the range and evolution of style that the rest of the album continues.

Kaboom‘ is a delightful little rest stop in the middle of the album, a short little musical interlude that feels like it comes straight from the fingers of a small town porch maestro, playing his guitar to the passersby for nothing in payment but a smile.

With a title as grandiose as ‘Entropy‘ it should come as no surprise that this track has a deep and booming resonant power that fills every crack and crevice in between the instrumentation and evocative vocals. The production is flawless allowing each note and new flourish to merge and mingle as they course together in the pulsating current. It’s a song that casts a shadow so much darker and larger than the sum of its parts, a raw, pure, and ferocious force of nature.

After the coursing torrent that came before ‘Tides‘ let’s us calm and soothe ourselves in calmer waters, dipping our feet in the waves of the beach. There is a poetry in the lyrics which are a little less direct and literal than what has come before, this feeling and the sense of meditative calm is further embodied by the very skillful but soft and simple instrumentation of the track.

Harvey’s Song‘ picks the pace back up and quickly reintroduces again the more orchestral and full sounding arrangement that has been so prominent throughout. Lyrically it dances with friendship, memory, and a sense of home and belonging. Vocally the true care and vibrancy of the song is perfectly matched to the skill of the pen that wrote it.

The shuddering bass of ‘The Fire‘ dominates the track, it has a powerful energy that is coiled and restrained, but the booming resonance is allowed to bloom. On top of this a rich and enchanting ballad is woven intricately through the other instruments and story telling. It feels like it would find it’s true home in front of a roaring hearth or bonfire with each finding their own chord or melody to add to the musical tapestry.

The sea shanty swagger and sway of ‘Khao Lak‘ reintroduces the strings of tropical waters and coconut frond strewn vista to paint a picture of a home from home and a life of promise never followed. There is some clever affectation and ethereal sounds woven into the mix that hint at the echoes, ghosts, and memories of the path that wasn’t travelled.

All That Glitters‘ continues on in the haunting, dark, and brooding vein evoking a death march peopled with regrets and the more sinister characters of our psyche. It explodes in climactic fashion with a truly spellbinding evolution and progression over the song’s journey. The exciting rush of the explosive instrumental flourishes leave you a little breathless and it’s easily the track I would pick out for an instant replay.

The album reaches its finale with ‘Foreign Sky‘ which ties a bittersweet and beautiful bow to the narrative and story of the album as a whole. It cements the fact that each song has marked only a minute or two of an epic that could have spanned a lifetime. It has a haunting and harrowing choral hook that due to the power and passion of the music lingers in the memory just as the places, people, and pictures we’ve been painted do.

Folk music has an affinity for affectionate and effective tale telling. It is littered lyrically with characters and places that invite the listener to get lost in them over the course of the song. Benjamin Mullins has managed to master this to such great skill that while each song embodies this truth in isolation, the album as a whole is an epic that works in sequence to tell an even larger and more powerful story.

There is such a strong and concrete sense of longing and place in the album, it conjures these hazy dreamlike visions of paradise lost. Effortlessly ethereal with memory or dreamlike qualities, it is also incredibly vivid and vibrant punching through with picture perfect clarity.

The production and instrumentation is so utterly enthralling that it makes it impossible to simply be swept along by the luscious lyricism and bardic story telling. Each track offers up a slightly different blend of neofolk flavours, tying together the threads from many genres with true care and love for tradition but with enough of a nuanced and new flare to make it exciting.

Words by Matt Miles

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