Ben Bedford is a folk singer who hails from the broad lands of the American Midwest and this is his third album, a rich collection of American tales sung in a strong authoritative voice and set to some stirring arrangements. He reminds me in his writing of some of the greats from the 60s folk revival; he picks a story that interests him and tries to get inside the heads of the characters involved, drawing out the broader significance from a small moment in history. Thus we get The Ballad of Harlington Wood, which is built around the everyman courage of the government legal officer who brokered the first moves toward ending an armed standoff at Wounded Knee in 1973. The lyric focuses on the tense moments as Wood walked into Wounded Knee, armed men from both sides within sight; he pins down the aspect of the story that has caught his eye, and Bedford displays this storyteller’s knack for finding the telling moment time and again. There are other songs built around half-forgotten episodes from public life – a song about Illinois poet Vachel Lindsay, for example, who made several long distance walking trips, declaiming his poetry to earn his supper and roof for the night. If there are personal songs in this collection they don’t really leap up and bite you - Ben Bedford himself is not really revealed in his own songs.
Several songs here have religious allusions that are possibly attempts to unpick a strongly religious background, but an ambiguity persists which suggests that he hasn’t yet really worked out what to make of it all. The album opens with John the Baptist, a song that seems so urgent and so packed full of striking imagery but that seems to me to be deeply ambivalent about being confronted by the certainties of a wild-haired preacher like The Baptist. This is one of several songs where Dennis Wage’s Hammond organ swirls magnificently, building atmosphere but not intruding on the man who holds the centre. Mind you, it would take some work to overshadow Ben Bedford’s singing because the warmth, sincerity and, above all, authority that he brings to delivering a lyric does rather command your attention. His chief musical compadre here is guitarist and co-producer Chas Williams, who does a great job of embellishing what Ben Bedford does without ever making it all about Chas Williams. A typically ego-free bit of electric guitar work on Empty Sky, for example, brings a widescreen grandeur to the song even whilst your attention is held by Ben Bedford’s voice and finger-picked acoustic guitar.
My favourite song is probably the title song, which was written, apparently, from the point of view of Bedford’s own grandfather who lost his brother in World War Two. It’s a typically thoughtful bit of writing, but it’s the deeply felt tenderness of his singing which really strikes home. All in all, this is a really good album and, though he’s distinctive enough that I don’t really want to put names in at this point, he will remind older folk fans of several old heroes, both in the quality and the tone of his work.
BEN BEDFORD AND GEOFF BARTLEY:
Brian Amos – Radio Eastern – Croydon, Victoria, AUSTRALIA
Gert Booysen – Radio Laeveld – Mpumalanga, SOUTH AFRICA
Massimo Ferro – Radio Voce Spazio – Alessandria, ITALY
Graham Lees – Country Connection – Dewsbury, UNITED KINGDOM
Lord Litter – Lord Litter’s Magic Music Box – Berlin, GERMANY
Alex Pijnen – Zuidwest FM – Bergen Op Zoom NETHERLANDS
Paula Zara – Radio Cernusco – Naviglio, ITALY
Milan Tesar – Radio Proglas – Brno, CZECH REPUBLIC
Johanna Bodde – Dollard Radio – Winshcoten, NETHERLANDS
Juergen Kramer – Radio Zusa – Lueneburg - GERMANY
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