Flyinshoes Review

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This is the third album in for Montana based Ben Bullington and he's assembled a stellar bunch of musicians to help him present this latest batch of songs. Recording at George Bradfute's Tone Chapparal, outside Nashville, is itself a sign of high quality as far as I'm concerned. But if George at the helm wasn't enough, how's about this for a collection of sidemen? Amongst others, there's Fats Kaplin, Kenny Malone, Will Kimbrough, Dave Jacques and Rodney Crowell. With musicians of that calibre you can be sure it's worth paying attention to all that's going on. The focus of the production is very much on the songs and on Ben's singing of them; he has a warm, throaty singing style reminiscent of Guy Clark at times. Nonetheless, there's some glorious touches in the background, whether it's George Bradfute's clarinet playing on 'Yankee Girl' or Fats Kaplin's pedal steel playing, especially on 'Cheyenne Range' where he evokes the wide open spaces in the way that only a pedal steel can. In fact, that whole arrangement on 'Cheyenne Range' is quite wondrous, with lots of resonating bass notes giving a fantastic warmth and depth to the sound.

Ben's eleven songs deal in a homely and gentle way with the world he lives in and the people in his life; he observes things with a sympathetic eye and tells stories of the lives being played out around him. He tends to observe and remain outside the story himself and this gives his work an air of poignant reflection rather than of direct emotional involvement. The arrangements tend to match this gentle detachment; no big surging tunes here, just beautifully constructed ambience to set Ben's stories against. You can easily hear that these songs would sound just fine in solo performance. There's beauty in Ben's own playing and bags of character in his singing. As far as his writing is concerned, I believe I can hear echos of other American folk favourites in the style of each song, and maybe Ben's still inching toward his own distinctive style - and maybe that will become known as the Montana sound.
John Davy

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June 2016

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