There's something about a rapidly strummed guitar chord followed quickly by an urgent vocal that is one definition of an effective rock song, and Fresh Air critic Ken Tucker thinks he's found quite a few examples of this on Benjamin Booker's self-titled debut album. The 25-year-old guitarist-singer-songwriter has already served as an opening act on Jack White's recent tour, and he may be ready for headliner status.
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. There's something about a rapidly strummed guitar chord followed quickly by an urgent vocal that helps define an effective rock song. Our rock critic Ken Tucker thinks he's found quite a few examples of this on Benjamin Booker's self-titled debut album. The 25-year-old guitarist singer-songwriter already has served as an opening act on Jack White's recent tour, and Ken says Booker may be ready for headliner status.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VIOLENT SHIVER")
BENJAMIN BOOKER: (Singing) Where I'm going - where I'm going. Where I'm going - I'll never know. Into the fire - I thought you would pull me girl - the I've ever known. Try your best to trust this thing. I try to break it - oh, no shame.
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: There's a raw yet disciplined energy running through Benjamin Booker's debut album. He comes on all out of control in passion - torn up in love. But just a few listens and you begin to appreciate the craftsmanship and thought that's gone into creating this music. The song that begin this review is called "Violent Shiver" - a phrase that aptly describes one possible reaction to hearing the doomsday romance scenario that Booker lays out in the lyric.
On another song, "Always Waiting," Booker commences slowly. You think, after the first 30 seconds, that the tune is going to be a balled or a dirge - a feeling seemingly confirmed by the lyric which is addressed to a young woman with a strong spiritual life. But then, Booker's guitar picks up the pace and he starts getting impatient - urging the girl to abandon her faith and come with him. He's got some devil in him for sure.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALWAYS WAITING")
BOOKER: (Singing) All is broaching - all is broaching - all is broaching. He said God is working - said God is working. All is searching. All is searching. He said - devil's working - said devil's working. Baby don't wait. I will love to see you away. I will love to see you.
TUCKER: Raised in Tampa, Florida and moving back and forth between there and New Orleans, Benjamin Booker has a lot of southern soul in his blues rock. When he slows down the tempo, you can hear the grit and the moan in his voice with the starkness that still doesn't make all the details clear. A song such as "Slow Coming" takes off from what Booker describes as a news report about a little girl shot while bending down to tie her shoes. It sends him into a tailspin of despair as though he thinks nothing in life is ever going to become easier, better, more humane.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SLOW COMING")
BOOKER: (Singing) At the top of the hour - today you're not me. Little girl is shot down. But don't you know how she is? Honestly, how can I be bothered now? To tell you the truth, I ain't been sleeping too well. Although our parents fought to be equal.
TUCKER: Benjamin Booker has cited influence ranging from the bluesman Blind Willie Johnson to the LA punk band the Gun Club, emphasizing a broad spectrum for the vehemence of his often blaring sound. The way he growls and tears away at syllables and phrases, pitching his voice low, he sounds much older than a guy in his 20s. It's as though he wants to, right out of the gate, sound like he's been around - that he knows the score - so does his drummer Max Norton as you can hear on this pounding track.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAVE YOU SEEN MY SON")
BOOKER: (Singing) Told me that the world is full of sinners and placed the Bible at my feet. I could hardly understand you. Boy, just mind that you mind me. I heard that you were calling on me, boy, asking for answers - heard that you were calling out my name - my name - that you cried for a whole week. My son is asking the world.
TUCKER: There's another element at play in Benjamin Booker's music - one that adds tension to this album - his relationships with women - lovers, friends, a sister - are characterized by a protectiveness that can seem alternately considerate and controlling. Booker's honesty - his awareness of this - just makes the intensity of the music all the more intriguing. You're left really wanting to hear where this guy's going next and who he wants to take along for the ride.
BIANCULLI: Ken Tucker reviewed Benjamin Booker's debut album. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.