2015 just gets better and better with each month throwing up some fantastic roots records and Vancouver’s Ben Rogers is not one to disappoint us with The Bloodred Yonder one of the most vibrant slices of countrified rock we’ve heard in a while. Rogers is a rebel rocker in the vein of Waylon Jennings and Steve Earle; he’s bad and wants us to know it, running from the law, a God fearin’ vagabond washed up on hard times, riding the rails and singing like fury although inside he’s hurting.
Rogers’ 2013 debut, Lost Stories: Volume 1 had him marked as a solid songwriter and performer working in the acoustic tradition. The Bloodred Yonder however is Rogers flexing his muscles with a full band behind him, in particular his brother Matt on guitars and keyboards and Matt Kelly playing a mean pedal steel, fuzzed up and rivalling Sneaky Pete in The Burritos. Together they revel in a hard edged honky tonk heaven somewhat akin to that inhabited by Jennings’ Lonesome, On’ry and Mean album – shitkickin’ music that doesn’t take prisoners. And while this mean country machine rolls on Rogers is there, riding shotgun, his lyrics loaded with acute observations, sage wisdom and just plain old poetry, in fact some of the best words we’ve heard this year.
There’s excitement aplenty on the opening songs. Wild Roses is out the traps with a gallop, a Western movie set to song, Rogers sounding wizened, the guitars blazing away. Wanted is a raucous honky tonk rant as the singer complains that he’s wanted by everybody except his romantic prize. Panhandler is a rip-roaring hillbilly take on the Stones’ Sympathy For The Devil with the protagonist bragging about his past, “I was baptised in a horse trough/I was born wearing a bull rim Stetson hat/Give me a jar of applejack/I’ll skin that hard tail mule in 30 seconds flat.” Perhaps exhausted by this opening triplet Rogers eases on the throttle delivering the achingly mournful Goodbye Rosa Lee, a keyboard spangled lament to a lost love with the lyrics almost a short story in themselves with killer opening lines “The moon shines like a silver coin you put in the jukebox to play our favourite song/I feel your beating heart as we dance along/We kiss so gently as if our lips are made of glass.” The song floats on with Rogers voice wearied but dripping poetry throughout.
Although there are still some instrumental pyrotechnics to come with the fiery pedal steel at the end of Darling Please and the Neil Young guitar rush of River standing out, Rogers triumphs on two songs in particular. On the whiskey soaked and weary Sinners he sings “Well God spoke to me last night, I told him I don’t talk to strangers/The guardian angel of death watches over the sinners” as pedal steel weeps away and the song limps along wonderfully. Even better is the Bakersfield styled The More I Learn which balances scatology and philosophy name checking The Klu Klux Klan, Einstein and Galileo, all kicked off when the singer has to bag his dog’s pile of shit only to find the bag has a hole in it.
All in all a cracking album that engages and intrigues, the lyric sheet included essential here as the words all work in their own right. As we said earlier Rogers is well versed in the acoustic setting so it will be interesting to see how these songs translate into a solo show and the good news is that he is currently embarked on a solo tour of the UK. English dates are about over but he has six Scottish dates coming up, see here.