6 Jun 2017

Witness by Benjamin Booker

From The Sampler, 7:30 pm on 6 June 2017
Benjamin Booker

Benjamin Booker Photo: Supplied

Nick Bollinger talks to Benjamin Booker about Mexico, Mavis and his sophomore album.

Benjamin Booker was just twenty-three when he made his first album, a little over three years ago. The album stood out. Though based in New Orleans, his music had few of the good-time, funk and soul shadings usually associated with that city. Rather, the tone was raw and desperate; a cry from somewhere between punk rock and the blues. Now Booker’s second album is here. And if the anger and urgency hasn’t left him, neither has he made the same record twice.

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On ‘Right On You’, the track that opens Witness, his voice is rasping, like a man who’s been crawling through a desert, while his guitar struts like a punked-up Marc Bolan. But there’s an inner-sprung groove sitting beneath it all that makes for a rather unique fusion. Punk-funk anyone?

On that earlier album – which consisted of the first songs he had ever written – he touched on social issues, including violence and racism, but also personal ones; his fears about his own mental health and potential for self-harm. Those themes haven’t entirely gone away, but they seem to be tempered with a new maturity, which is mirrored in the album’s more sophisticated and varied production.

And while the dark themes remain, there is a sense of light in the darkness, underscored by the strong gospel flavour of songs like ‘Carry’, ‘All Was Well’ (based on the old spiritual ‘If I Had My Way I’d Tear This Building down’) and the title track, which features a cameo from the indomitable Mavis Staples.

Songs featured: Right On You, Witness, The Sow Drag Under, Motivation, Truth Is Heavy, All Was Well, Overtime.

Witness is available on ATO Records.