Benjamin Folke Thomas. Modern Man. Aveline Recordings

a2015374076_16What’s inside the mind of the modern man? Well, according to Benjamin Folke Thomas, this fellow is a bit of a dreamer, somewhat insecure in his love life (and even prone to occasional fantasies) but deep down he’s a good guy who worries about the environment and rails against injustice. Importantly he also has a sense of humour, witness the back cover art which has Folke Thomas in a space suit patiently queuing with his shopping in a mini mart – an outsider tasked with mundane tasks.

Recorded in his native Sweden, Modern Man bobs and weaves its way through several styles- Neil Young like guitar tourneys, jangly pop rock, and introspective folk  all raise their heads here- with Thomas’ winning voice and his well crafted words the glue which binds the album together. He says of the disc that he “Wanted to get away from just writing about myself and my broken heart… or at least to do it by taking the piss out of myself with sardonic humour.” There is a touch of biography in some of the songs with One Day a poignant number where he recalls his early troubadouring and dreams whimsically of the day he becomes a star. Stuff of Dreams is another night time fantasy with Thomas, an avid pool player, dreaming of meeting Paul Newman in his Fast Eddie Felson persona to play a few breaks and “chew the shit.” Here Thomas’ impish humour is apparent in the heavenly refrain which floats out throughout the song in contrast to Thomas who sings it as if he were Johnny Cash. There’s more oohs and aahs backing the opening song Tasteless and Complacent, a fine jangled number which introduces Thomas’ querying of the human condition (which reappears throughout the album) as he employs a somewhat misanthropic protagonist who has a glimpse of salvation if he can only find some folk who like him. Likewise, Some People has guitar jangles and a driving beat although here Thomas sounds almost like Gene Clark at times as he casts around various belief systems trying to make sense of them.

One More Chance is an affecting portrait of a man pleading for, yes, One More Chance, as his partner packs her bag and sets her ring on his table as she goes off to seek someone with a “better insurance policy.” As a break up song it works magnificently although one can’t help but suspect that it’s written and sung somewhat tongue in cheek. More unnerving is the title song which starts off describing a stalker who follows his prey before zooming out allowing the listener to acknowledge that this man could be any one the male population. The song is set to slow burning electric guitar over a sludge like rhythm, eventually picking up pace before climaxing in a frantic burst of noise, the irony felt in every note. There is some sweet revenge in the murder ballad, Lily Like A Gunslinger, where an abused woman shoots her husband after 14 years of abuse, the words as hard-boiled and lean as in a Jim Thompson story.

Finally, there’s the magnificent guitar epic, Dead Horizon, which has Thomas and his band (The Swedish Folk Mafia) invade Neil Young and Crazy Horse territory as they growl and wail for seven minutes. Thomas points his finger towards populist movements with his words here reminding one of the late Phil Ochs.

With Modern Man, Benjamin Folke Thomas has delivered a mature album which is both personal and significant as he investigates the modern malaise. It’s a grand listen with some humour involved but it’s also deadly serious.

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Winchester Texas? The Evolution of SC4M

sc4m-2017-for-webYou wouldn’t think that anyone would mistake a one day music festival in Winchester for the sprawling SXSW held annually in Austin. However, the lawyers at SXSW thought the possibility was there so they slapped a cease and desist order on Oliver Gray’s SXSC (South By South Central) some years back. Oliver, an author and long time music fan had set up SXSC in 2009 although he had been promoting shows in Winchester under that banner since 2004. Writing about his encounter with the SXSW folks he says, “The 2013 SXSC Festival was to be the last under that name, following a surreal series of email exchanges with lawyers representing the South By South West Festival in Texas. I tried to respond with levity but was always flat-batted back with stern, unresponsive legalese, so in the end gave in.” Thus was born SC4M – South Central For Music. Held annually the festival has featured many acts mentioned on Blabber’n’Smoke and this year is no exception so we reached out to Oliver to chat with him about the festival and his tireless promotion of Americana and roots music.

You say that you first really got interested in Americana type music when you saw Peter Bruntnell back in 2000.

Yes, although I’ve been going to gigs since the mid sixties I really first stumbled upon this more roots based music when I first saw Peter Bruntnell. That was in the Tower Arts Centre in Winchester and I decided then that I’d have a go at promoting what was then called alt-country with my friend, Richard Williams. Our first show was in 2003 and the act was of course Peter Bruntnell. After that, we put on shows at The Railway Inn on a fairly regular basis and also started doing house concerts before we decided to try a one day festival. I’d been to SXSX several times and thought we’d call ours South By South Central as it seemed to fit Winchester geographically and sum up the music.

So this year is the eighth festival?

That’s right. We started off in 2009 with Peter and Richmond Fontaine headlining. We call Peter our lucky mascot because he is one of our very favourite musicians and he’s played at The Railway Inn so often and it’s almost a tradition that he and his fans will be at the festival and this year is no different. His latest album, Nos Da Comrade has been so successful  that we take it as a compliment that he’s still happy to come along and play for us. He’s a busy man these days touring in various formats and we’ve actually got him coming back in October when he’ll be playing with the legendary BJ Cole but for SC4M it will be the four-piece band who can really rock. I saw them a few weeks ago at Static Roots in Oberhausen and they were really good as were Danny & The Champs, another great band who have previously headlined SC4M.

The festival takes place in The Railway Inn. Can you tell us a little about the venue?

Yes, it’s almost my second home. It’s your classic, slightly dingy, music venue but it has a great atmosphere and it has the advantage of having two rooms, the barn, which is the main room where we have the bands, and the attic which is where we put on the acoustic acts. We alternate the location so there’s never two acts playing at the same time which is one of my pet hates at festivals when you’re watching a band but really wishing you were at another one playing at the same time. So the audience can amble from room to room and see all of the acts. It’s very homely, almost club atmosphere, just a bunch of friendly people having a nice time together which is what we’re all about.  The capacity is 100 and if all of them came into the attic it can be a bit claustrophobic but some people take time out for a drink or a bite to eat so usually it’s not too crowded. It starts at noon and goes on until 11. Tickets are £32, same as last year even though our costs have gone up and there’s a range of food and lots of ale. It’s not your overpriced festival stuff, it’s a proper pub.

There’s quite a lot of these smaller events going on these days and I’m glad to see that. I was at Ramblin’ Roots a few weeks ago and they had a similar set up with several of the artists who were on veterans of SC4M but it seems that as the appetite for what we call “Americana” grows there’s room for more, we’re not in competition.  The more the merrier I say as there’s an astonishing amount of talent out there and if we can help in any way to let them play to sympathetic audiences then it’s a job well done. It’s always a fraught time as financially it’s extremely tight, we don’t make a profit and each year I get into a bit of a panic over whether we’ll sell enough tickets but in the end we always do. I hand out flyers for example at The End Of The Road Festival and quite a few people seem to come having seen them so it seems to work. We don’t have a publicity budget so it comes down to word of mouth and sympathetic folk mentioning us although I have to say that RnR magazine (formerly R2 and before that Rock’n’Reel)  very kindly gave us an advert in return for us advertising the magazine at the festival. It’s very kind of them and they’re a great supporter of roots music. 

Blabber’n’Smoke has mentioned many of the acts appearing this year : Peter Bruntnell, Emily Barker, Benjamin Folke Thomas, Joanna Serrat, Curse Of Lono, Robert Chaney and Vera Van Heeringen. There are a few we’re not familiar with, can you tell us about them?

Lucas & King are two girls from the Southampton area and we’ve put them on a lot. There’s quite a taste right now for sweet voiced duos but these guys are quite different. Bo Lucas sings and she sounds almost like Tammy Wynette but the songs aren’t anything like traditional country as they go into quite biting and original topics while Hayleigh King is a wonderfully fluid electric guitarist who plays with no effects sounding almost like Chet Atkins. Jonas and Jane are a bluegrassy husband and wife duo from Farnham, just up the road for us  and they played last year and blew the audience away so we’ve moved them up the bill a bit this year. Finally there’s Dan O’Farrell, the “token” local guy, he’s quite a political writer, our local Billy Bragg.

As with Peter Bruntnell we’re happy and proud to have Emily Barker back as she puts on a lovely show and she has been a stalwart supporter. As for Benjamin Folke Thomas we’re hoping he has the Swedish Mafia with him but at  present we’re not sure if he will or if it will be a solo performance. And then there’s Curse Of Lono. It’s unusual for me to book a band I haven’t seen personally but they’re playing a bunch of festivals and I thought we’d better get them while we can. It’s a great line up and you could say we have two themes really. The first is Internationalism as our acts are from all over – Sweden, Spain, Australia, Holland etc and secondly we wanted to try and feature as many female acts as we could and I think we’ve managed that.

I was looking at the SC4M website and the list of artists you’ve promoted over the years, at the festival, The Railway Inn and your house concerts, is just astounding. Are you able to mention any particular highlights?

We always love it when Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express come as they always do a storming show and I was really pleased to see that Uncut did two full length album reviews this month of acts that we’ve presented.  They featured John Murry who  headlined the festival last year and This Is The Kit who are of course originally from Winchester.  I think that the best show that we’ve ever done was not at the festival but we put on Sarah Borges with Girls, Guns and Glory and there was only about 12 people in the room. Despite that they played the most exciting show I’ve ever seen.

The house shows have been going on for some time and they’re a wonderful experience. As empty nesters we’re able to offer to put the musicians up for the night which of course helps them to keep the costs down. These musicians are inevitably incredibly nice people especially the Americans who are so polite and appreciative. Through this we’ve become good friends with some of them over the years especially the guys in Richmond Fontaine. Although it’s a hobby and doesn’t make us any money it’s a privilege to be a part of it and I honestly believe that we’re living in a bit of a golden age for Americana.

So, it sounds like a great day out and you can purchase tickets here. As Oliver says there’s only space for 100 folk so best to snap one up quickly. At £32 that’s less than £3 a band!

The SC4M webpage has a host of information including a great list of all the acts who have appeared under the SC4M/SXSC banner over the years. There’s also a Youtube channel, The Swiss Cottage Sessions , where you can see many of the acts who have played at the house concerts. In the meantime here’s classic clip from a previous festival…

Benjamin Folke Thomas. Copenhagen.

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Copenhagen finds Scandinavian artist Benjamin Folke Thomas continuing his journey from folkie (admired as much for his finger picking skills as his songs) to melodic rock band leader. Recorded with the same line up as on Rogue State Of Mind the album is less punchy than its predecessor with Thomas’s attractive baritone well to the fore over a backing that rarely lets loose but is more sonically adventurous. The opening song, Good Enough For Me, is a prime example as the band settle into a mid tempo shuffle with Thomas almost talking through the Dylan like lyrics before his refrain is amplified by muted guitar swirls. As the song progresses the guitars muster some energy before breaking out into a Thin Lizzy type duality without disturbing the neighbours. The following Rhythm And Blues is sparkier with an acoustic guitar thrash and is the first of several songs that address relationships. The band are in fine folk rock form here but the passion emanates from Thomas’s vocals.

There’s a great deal of passion involved here but again it’s down to Thomas’s  voice or his lyrics with one song, Hold On particularly scathing as Thomas tears into some rock idols and their predilection for youthful flesh. The soulful intro in Good Friend Again finds Thomas recovering from the night before and disturbed by the neighbours, “fucking through the wall” before he goes on to scourge himself for his failings while the band slowly ramp up the tension. Bad News finds Thomas approximating Leonard Cohen’s apocalyptic pronouncements on his The Future album down to Cohen’s use of keyboards and programmed drums on an enigmatic song that might refer to the global banking crisis that still has us bailing out the banks.

Nestled within these songs are some gems. Finn is a trilogy of tributes to three people in his life that wafts wonderfully with the band finely pulsating and sending out some barbed guitar shards that swell towards the end as a chorus of backing vocals come in and then fade leaving only a beating drum. Copenhagen 30/6 is lighter fare with as its almost bossa nova beat finds Thomas recalling a rock’n’roll romance threatened by poor gigs and too much booze but with a hopeful ending. Struck Gold is about salvation via a muse and again the band gently propel the song along with a funereal beat and slivers of guitar. The song itself is one that had it been written back then might have been selected by Johnny Cash for one of his valedictory albums. The album closes with Thomas revisiting his earlier folk persona with Gimme A Smile recalling the work of Tom Paxton.

The album’s released this Friday and Benjamin Folke Thomas starts a short UK and Europe tour tonight, dates here.

 

Benjamin Folke Thomas. Rogue State Of Mind. Bucketfull Of Brains


Reviewing Benjamin Folke Thomas‘ debut album, Too Close To Here, Blabber’n’Smoke detected several of the Swedish artist’s influences jostling for position throughout. While Thomas was able to corral these into what was indeed a very fine opening statement the album did have a homemade charm having been recorded quickly and live in the studio with a resultant cliff edge tension on some of the numbers. Rogue state Of Mind is a very different beast; self assured and polished, it was recorded with Thomas’ regular band in Gothenburg and sounds like a group as opposed to a singer with a backing band. While none of the songs were rehearsed prior to going in they’ve made full use of the studio to flesh out the sound adding keys and brass to several of the songs while Thomas’ voice has filled out, less gruff and rushed than on Too Close To Here.
So, polished and ready to go Thomas and his band (Henning Sernhede on electric and acoustic guitar, lap steel, keys, pedal steel, mandolin and banjo, Johannes Mattsson, electric and stand up bass, keys and Jonas Abrahamsson, drums, percussion and keys) set out their wares and the result is in the main mighty fine. Like Danny And The Champions Of The World they manage to churn up a heady brew of urban Americana with a hint of The E Street Band on occasion and in Sernhede they have a guitarist able to soar when required. It’s apparent from the opening guitar curls of Break The Border that they’re a confident bunch with the song a zestful mid paced rocker with a touch of The Allmans in the guitar breaks. They then take a left turn however on the following Gettysburg, an acoustic tale that trots along with a steady although increasingly punchy pace, adorned throughout with some very tasty lap steel licks. The time signatures here recall Dylan circa Blood On The Tracks and the Dylan reference is reinforced by Thomas’ lyrics about a mystical camp whore. Riding the rhythm his voice rings with poetic fire as he sings “ in the cool fountain evening when she danced beneath the rain like random rhythms that drive black dust insane like an arrow screaming at her pleasure.” Bulletproof is more pared back, a trio of guitar, bass clarinet and mandobird cast the song in aspic as Thomas wrings out his emotions in a very fine wearied style.
The band jump back in for the brisk and declamatory Futile Blues where Thomas sounds like John Stewart in full voice before Broke Down Train pulls in with an ambient sound that recalls a Daniel Lanois production, a hypnotic haze pervading the song. Pauper To A King is a claustrophobic and grimy urban tale leavened only by some sleek guitar lines which snake around the funk fuelled bass line on a song that one could imagine Danny and his Champs doing. Dream About You Baby is a funky shuffle of a song with female backing vocals and honking sax with Thomas leering somewhat as he dreams about his girl in his bed as he seduces her by playing Blond On Blonde. There’s a darker side on the next song, Woman I Love which starts out with a chilling neon lit noirish feel but is eventually let down as the intensity fades towards the end. There’s a dip into Townes Van Zandt territory on the stripped down acoustic lament of Married Blues before Thomas closes the album with the pleading and powerful Little Too Late, an ambiguous tale that could be about a stalker or a lover about to lose his partner, whatever, Thomas imbues the song with a passion, his voice bursting at times as the tune climaxes with a wonderful solo from Sernhede. Heady stuff.

Website

Blabber’n’Smoke’s Top Ten for 2013

I succumbed to the idea of a top ten for the first time last year and if nothing else it’s been useful looking back at it over the past few days and comparing it to the list below. Was it a good year for music? I don’t know. Has there ever been a bad year? All I can say is that I’ve enjoyed listening to music this year as much as the last one and the year before that and so on. Many of last year’s list still get regular plays here so at least I liked them and the number one, John Murry’s Graceless Age has had a second wind with its eventual release Stateside. It may seem odd to have an artist with two entries in the list but both albums by Michael Rank & Stag are simply superb examples of what Blabber’n’Smoke would define as Americana; rooted in the country with a frontier outlook and a fierce regard for the common folk. And a happy coincidence to have two works from Howe Gelb mentioned also as he continues to plow his singular field. Both albums have striking images of Gelb threatening to turn him into an Americana icon, part Mt. Rushmore, part Dorothea Lange, for Blabber’n’Smoke, he’s a hero. Anyway, here’s what rocked our boat over the past twelve months.

1. Doc Feldman & the LD50. Sundowning At The Station. This Is American Music

Soiled songs and dusty ballads sounding like a wounded Crazy Horse. A triumph for label of the year, This Is American Music.

And here’s the man himself

2. Michael Rank and Stag. Mermaids. Louds Hymn

Wracked and raw country folk and rock from North Carolina’s Michael Rank. In the space of two years he’s delivered three albums (one a double disc set) that in a fit of hyperbole we said it sounded as if Keef had left the Stones in ’69, joined The Band and recorded with Neil Young frying honeyslides in the kitchen. At the very least it comes close.

3. Israel Nash Gripka. Israel Nash’s Rain Plains. Loose Music

Guitars weave and wander with a ferocity and lyricism that defies description and he repeats this throughout the album and there’s a moment in the title song where the guitars fizz and burn just like the best firework you’ve ever seen.

4. Cam Penner. To Build A Fire. Independent

“Ukuleles, guitars, banjos were strummed. Floors were stomped. Kick drums were kicked. Feet stumbled. Thighs, knees, hands, slapped, clapped. Voices strained and bent. Fingers gripped, grabbed, picked. Arms and hands flung. Skin wrapped tight strained and stretched. Body and sound thrown against wood and metal.”

5. Michael Rank & Stag. In The Weeds. Louds Hymn
No apologies for the second appearance from this tall, stick thin North Carolina rock’n’roll ragamuffin. The sonic slurry he conjures up is nothing less than mesmerising.

6. Sam Baker. Say Grace. Independent

Baker’s wounded heart goes from strength to strength

7. Diana Jones. Museum of Appalachia Recordings. Proper Records.

She’s not well known but whenever we mention her there’s a flurry of activity from folk who recognise Jones’ ability to sound as old as the hills and bang up to date, the thinking man’s Gillian Welch?

8. Birds of Chicago. Birds of Chicago. Independent.

JT Nero makes an honest woman of Allison Russell as they formally pair up for a laid back celebration of harmony singing and some Tupelo honey.

9. Dead Flowers. Midnight at The Wheel Club Hee Haw Records

Dark and deep, vocally and lyrically, a trip through North America and the soul.

Dead Flowers – The Beach from deadflowers on Vimeo.

10. Wynntown Marshals. The Long Haul. Blue Rose.

Local heroes, The Wynntown Marshals survived some turbulent years with band members coming and going. With new crew on board they came up trumps with a bigger, more layered sound and another fine songwriter in the shape of bassist Murdoch McLeod who penned the amazing Tide. Topping off a great year for them the band were snapped up by the very discerning blue Rose label.

Honorable mentions

Howe Gelb. The Coincidentalist
Howe Gelb. Dust Bowl
Mark Collie & his Reckless Companions. Alive At Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary.
J. R. Shore. State Theatre.
The Coals A Happy Animal
Benjamin Folke Thomas. Too Close to Here
Slaid Cleaves. Still Fighting The War
Thriftstore Masterpiece presents Lee Hazlewood’s Trouble Is A Lonely Town.
The Quiet American. Wild Bill Jones
Amanda Pearcy. Royal street
Heidi Talbot. Angels Without Wings
Jim Dead I’m Not Lost
Rachel Brooke. A Killer’s dream
Great Peacock E. P.

Benjamin Folke Thomas. Too Close To Here. (Bucketfull of Brains)

A Swede domiciled in the UK Benjamin Folke Thomas has been making a bit of a name for himself on the London scene as a singer/songwriter in the Dylan mould and an accomplished guitar picker. He released an EP in 2010 and now follows that up with his debut album Too Close To Here which does beg comparison with Mr. Zimmerman from time to time but allows him to shine as his own man albeit with a slew of influences and which raises a suspicion that had he been the next Dr. Who he would have set the Tardis to land on the cusp of the sixties and seventies.
Thomas wanders through various styles on the album with some songs reminiscent of the dexterity of Pentangle while there is a whiff of the romanticism of Al Stewart (before he went all FM) along with a hint of the American influenced pub rock that included Ducks Deluxe, Brinsley Schwartz,Sniff ‘n’ the Tears and even the early Dire Straits especially on the opening song, Someday. Love Somebody which follows has an endearing rough and ready delivery with the band teetering on the edge of losing the beat but always recovering just in time. Thomas next delivers his first killer song, Blues For You which mixes Dylan, Fred Neil and Davey Graham in equal measure as his gruff voice reaches back into sixties folk blues and comes up with a bittersweet love song that stands up well in comparison to many standards of that era with lines like ” my lungs are heavy and my skin feels weak my soul rattles every time you speak your eyes are pretty but all I see is sin.
Extend No Greeting is another superb song which recalls the raga guitar sagas folk listened to while wrapped up in fragrant smoke while the emotive Bye Bye Baby (Bye Bye) stands out by dint of the lyrics which name check Warren Zevon while recalling Bruce Springsteen over a backing which could have been laid down by the Band on Planet Waves.
All this talk of influences runs the risk of tagging Thomas as an “oldies” or tribute act but he has the talent to channel these influences into an album that’s vibrant and exciting so that the motor mouth talking blues of OK Blues takes Dylan by the throat and drags him into the 21st Century while I’m Alive resurrects Ronnie Lane for one more whirl around the campfire. In the meantime a song like Let Her Down, the centrepiece of the album that has a spine chilling feel as the guitars summon up supernatural sounds is proof that Thomas can update a folk ballad tradition and add his own lyrical sparkle to it. Superb stuff.

Bucketfull of Brains website