Benyaro is the latest brainchild of musical impresario Ben Musser
I received a press kit the other day in which reviewers from other towns referred to the band Benyaro as reminiscent of “early Tom Waits” and “acoustic Bowie.” Those are some powerful comparisons and it’s safe to say they had my full attention.
After spending some time with the band’s music I have to say the Bowie comparison is apt, at times hauntingly so. Waits is a bigger stretch, with some of the lyrics and vocals being not dissimilar to “Closing Time” but honestly I hear a bigger connection to Cat Stevens than Tom. Of course, this is why I get to write my own reviews.
First things first, the band is the creation of Ben Musser on guitar, vocals, kick drum, hi-hat, harmonica and shaker. Musser is generally joined by an upright bass player (on upright bass) making the project essentially a duo, though their latest album, Too Many Men, features Brian Geltner on drums along with Leif Routman on bass.
Musser is a bit of a musical ubermensch, a singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/arranger/composer who basically does it all and does a very good job of it with at least one film score to his name. In this respect, as in so many others, he is worthy of the comparisons being made.
From the humble beginnings of subway busking to opening for the Averitt Brothers, Benyaro has perfected a sound that, while it may give the occasional nod to an influence and garner favorable comparisons to legendary performers, is nonetheless wholly unique.
That’s not an easy trick to pull off these days, but Musser combines some of the sweetest, prettiest acoustic picking with vocals that, while genuinely Bowie-esque, also share a strong kinship with early Lenny Kravitz, circa “Let Love Rule.” It’s an unusual but highly effective blend of Americana/roots music and pure soul that besides being academically interesting is also a joy to hear.
Listening to some of the band’s older tracks, it’s easy to see how Musser’s penchant for clever lyrics, pretty melodies and often unexpected changes and voicings make him not only a phenomenal live act but also a natural for scoring film.
One of the toughest hurdles for any contemporary artist to clear is creating something that doesn’t sound purely derivative. At the same time, one must avoid going so far in to the realm of the eclecticism as to be unlistenable.
Benyaro charts a bold, confident course through those murky waters, resulting in music that is familiar enough to be warm and welcoming, different enough to raise it head and shoulders above the endless stream of “guys with guitars” producing competent but soulless tunes.
The band is currently on an exhausting 2016 “Get out the Vote” tour that will bring them to Chattanooga on Saturday, Sep. 24th where they will be performing at Clyde’s on Main.
On a side note, while I don’t know who is doing the booking for Clyde’s right now, they have shown outstanding taste and judgment in the new talent they’re bringing to town. Benyaro is no exception.