Often heard it said that progressive rock is perhaps the most divisive of all the genres. Songs of epic duration and malignant narcissism carve a schism between the devotee and the casual listener, one defining it as art while the other wanders off muttering about intolerable wank. However, the solo guitar project comes a close second. “Is there any singing”, is the common question that sharply cuts down those willing to give it a listen. Once we bang through that hurdle we next have to bypass the reviewer’s comparison to some guitar acolyte and parallel the newcomer to a heavy hitter. How the hell is a one man guitar album meant to make it with all those things against it?
Its a tough gig but if we didn’t give it a go then how do we discover new worlds? So here we have the first album by Rene Benton and its called Xpressions Too. Having been a fan of guitar based solo albums I’m always keen to discover new artists, especially one that has a Kossoff tone and a very jazzy feel. Given Benton’s musical resume and influences, where he lists Kansas and some funk staples, its no surprise that we have such a versatile and experimental player.
The first thing that strikes you about this album is the mix. Whereas other artists demote the rest of the band to mere followers, Benton’s band drives this work forward. On one hand it can be the humility of the artist to share the stage but on the other hand it can be distracting. As an example, and I do not mean this as a criticism of Benton in any way, the drum level occasionally obliterates the lead guitar track but it is stunning drumming. Not a negative, just unusual for the named and solo artist to almost disappear into the background on some tracks. Overall this is an accomplished debut album. It escapes the normal trap of same vibe and feel by working its way through the various styles that Benton has in his armoury. If anything he underplays and I’m thinking that at some stage he is just going to break free and soar. But, it doesn’t. Its all very reserved and composed. Simple in its construction and precise in its execution. If you compare this to Benton’s performance at NAMM then its a very controlled release.
There is a stand out moment and that is the track, ‘Lyfe Support’ which truly is a stunning performance and shows that there is a whole other side to Benton’s playing that hints to what is coming on other albums. There are touches on this song that I haven’t heard in a life time of listening to those other guitar heroes that reviewers crap on about. A close second is ‘Open Air’ which is uplifting and a track that just makes you smile. The playing on both these tracks is unique in many ways and seems to stem from a strong faith and belief in what Benton has produced here. Although the album has spots where the mix is a tad confused they are short and don’t detract from what is an excellent debut.
All I can say is dip into the two songs that I highlighted above and give it a go. Mr Benton is already much traveled and has a who’s who of mates in the industry so look out for him at a theatre near you sometime in the near future. Come on, give it a go!
Review Craig Grant]]>