When I first sat down to Benjamin Booker’s new album Witness, I entirely expected to hear much the same of what made me love his self-titled debut album: blues guitar being shredded like Marty McFly does in the first Back To The Future. And while there are still aspects of this on the new album, the progression of Booker as a musician and lyricist is what makes Witness a must hear.
I vividly remember the first time I heard Benjamin Booker. I was driving to work and caught his break out single, “Heave You Seen My Son?”, as I channel surfed in my shitty Toyota Starlet. Believing it could have been Gary Clark Jr, thanks to the guitar work, I enthusiastically wrote down ‘Booker’ on the ATM receipt I had in my car’s console. Picturing a middle aged pack-a-day smoker, I was surprised when I looked him up later on. From there, my obsession with that album only grew.
On his sophomore effort, Booker has kept the rawness you’ve come to expect from him, while expanding the sound. He’s still got the husky vocals, but where it felt like his debut album was him trying to show how well he could play guitar, Witness goes about showcasing his ability as a musician; rather than showing the listener how good he’d be at Guitar Hero.
Lead single “Witness” has a real gospel feel to it; obviously influenced heavily from his New Orleans roots. Where “Witness” shows a previously rarely seen side of Booker, opening track “Right On You” follows right along the track laid by his debut album. “Motivation” is a little more country than any other genre, with the subtle strings over the closing stages another great differentiation for an artist who seems to be taking more chances with the confidence he’s found in the near three years since his first LP.
“Overtime” seems to mirror what Whitney did on their recent album, which says something, because that album was brilliant. One thing you do notice about Witness is the desire for Booker to potentially show a more tender and thought-out approach to his song writing. This is showcased brilliantly on the earnest and heartfelt “Carry”, while “Off The Ground” has a severe case of multiple personality disorder as its opening minute floats by before finding the shredding Booker we’d previously expected to hear. These tracks remind you of early Alabama Shakes, which says something about the quality of the work.
The clear standout from the album is “Believe”. It’s easily the most well rounded track in terms of music, song content and lyricism. The album would have been a near masterpiece if it had included a couple more tracks of this standard. Closing out Witness is the frantic “All Was Well”, whose title pretty much sums up where Booker currently is as a musician. He’s found his groove here on Witness, whilst also maintaining enough of what he’d previously displayed to continue holding the interests of both older and newer fans.
Review score: 8.1 out of 10.
Witness is out Friday, June 2nd.
Photo by Neil Krug.