BY DAY, while wearing his Clark Kent guise as it were, he’s a web developer; but Omaha, Nebraska’s Ben Eisenberger really comes alive with the music.
Three bands; that’d be enough for me to juggle. But no. He’s also a solo artist with a line in big-hearted, atmospheric, swoonsome folk.
His debut solo outing, Three Islands, was inspired by a trip to Southeast Asia and is reportedly a record of hushed immediacy; it takes something to really turn it on, with just voice and six-strings, after all; actually, it takes American music back to a sudden, cobbled together hearthside on the trail west.
I say reportedly purely because that 2018 release was hugely limited; 200 numbered cassettes, 100 CDs. You can imagine, on hearing his new one, that these sold out pretty quickly and there probably aren’t too many copies going begging across the state line, let alone my side of the deep blue.
But enough recent history; let’s look to the now. This Friday Ben’s releasing his second album, Soloists, for Plastic Digital; it’s his first to be committed to vinyl. And it’s also a very fine record, one in which Ben isn’t afraid to turn on the technique when the song demands (he’s a classically trained guitarist); nor to let that guitar proclaim in beautiful raggedness when feeling comes first. And we’re jolly pleased to be premiering that record here today at Backseat Mafia.
What do you get upon stepping over Ben’s threshold? Warm lovely tunesmithery, that’s what.
“Don’t Change Your Mind” plays on the edge of nuanced acoustic dissonance, is bright with ringing lap steel and wonder. Ben’s warm Nebraskan tones bring a heartfelt truth to a song in which he sings: “But I hate that I act so wild / When I meet someone that’s right … but I can’t play it cool at all.” Maybe imagine, if you will, Glen Campbell taking on a track from Bonnie Prince Billy’s Master And Everyone.
“See You On The Other Side” is a slower surge of loss and country shimmer, wrapped up warm against the Midwest midwinter chill in lush arrangement, fading and surging, fading and surging, the better to convey that longing; while “Brightest Star In The Sky” pits a raw vocal prettiness and mantric lyricism against lush, shifting strings. If you’re a fan of Sea Change or Morning Phase you’ll recognise the deep melancholic beauty.
“On And On” tacks out toward Vashti Bunyan on beautiful flute pastoralism, Ben lamenting of a distant prospective amour: “I never seem to interest you / Judging men by what you see / Simple lazy pageantry … I think you need some sleep.” The twin flute cadence at the end nods to Blue Note. That pure Seventies’ folk textures of that tee you up just so for the instrumental fingerpicking essay, “This Is It”, which brings to mind the great James Blackshaw at his O True Believers height.
The title track has this sense of always having existed; a world-weary waltz in string squeak and a feeling of tearfulness that opens out into a pretty, impressionistic coda with a little of that freewheelin’ Tim Buckley broad-spectrum emotional chime.
“Wide Open Spaces” channels nothing less than Roger McGuinn’s “Ballad Of Easy Rider”, for me; that strong country-devotional ballad, wrapping all the joy and the sadness of a life lived into sharper focus by being refracted through melody and lyrical imagery. “They come from wide open spaces / And that’s just what I’m running from”, Ben sings. The way the strings hit a different melody under that refrain the final time around? Hits you right there.
The album ends in the simple country of “Johnny”, fiddle and mandolin combining on a homespun folk as old as the hills given new life in Ben’s yearn: “We can live in happiness and poverty … I’ll never trust a man quite like Johnny.”
Ben says: ” “I wrote the songs for this record back in 2019, which feels like a completely universe from the current moment.
“Some songs are about people, some songs are about situations, and some songs really aren’t about anything.
“I chose the title Soloists with the thought that we are all ultimately individuals navigating our own worlds. It definitely hits differently after this lonely year.”
Beautiful and drawing respectfully on a number of strands in the wider folk pantheon, Ben’s songwriting, arranging talents and musicianship pull this record way, waay above any accusations of the derivative; and actually into a pretty special place indeed. Buy.
Ben Eisenberger’s Soloists is out on digital download, cassette and vinyl this Friday, December 11th, from Plastic Miracles; you can order your copy from the label’s Bandcamp page, and you can follow Ben at his website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.