The English Midlands is far from unknown territory for Ben Glover. Support slots for Brandy Clark and Mary Gauthier have raised his profile in Birmingham, while a similar role for Gretchen Peters had a repeat effect after shows in Bromsgrove and Leamington Spa. Maybe a little further afield, but a decent gathering in Shrewsbury when co-headlining with Angel Snow showed potential away from being the opening act. Well now the time has come to step out of the shadows as a performing artist in the UK as Ben began his first headline tour at Birmingham’s premier listening venue – the Kitchen Garden Café.
A coup for Nashville based Ben on these run of dates across mainland Britain and his native Ireland is acquiring the services of ace guitarist Colm McClean for sparring duties. Together their guitars blended into a melange of acoustic bliss providing a special setting for Ben’s highly acclaimed songs to burst into life. Colm was a key figure in Gretchen Peters’ touring band when she played our isles last year and drew praise for helping lift these shows onto a plateau of unmatched rivalry. This evening the same skill was applied to Ben’s songs which while springing up from a number of sources, bases and projects each contain a high degree of accomplishment.
This inaugural UK tour has been named after Ben’s latest album THE EMIGRANT. Five songs from this record were sprinkled across the brace of sets which formed the show. ‘A Song of Home’ – one of the key promotional tracks – drew a gasp of audience approval upon completion, while ‘Heart in My Hand’ re-affirmed its prime status as one of the stand-out numbers from the release. Ben’s buoyancy and informative chat grew as the gig progressed leading to some background to the song ‘Moonshiner’ and why the whole theme of the record, especially the title track, has personal resonance to him. It was fitting to end the second set with a version of a traditional closer, ‘The Parting Glass’. Each time this song is heard thoughts go back to the Wailin’ Jennys singing it in Worcester around a decade ago, albeit in a contrasting style to Ben’s rugged tones.
One of Ben’s most intriguing projects in recent years was his collaboration with Joshua Britt and Neilson Hubbard in The Orphan Brigade. The evening began with the track ‘Sweetheart’ from that album, but it wasn’t until the second half before the audience were fully briefed on the supernatural goings on in Octagon Hall – a place which needs to extend its opening hours to a Monday! Not surprisingly the tale of a flirtatious ghost ‘Trouble My Heart (Oh Harriet)’ was the other chosen song to share from that record, with full approval here.
While fans of Ben would have been well versed with much of the show’s content, the most revealing parts were the next Orphan Brigade project which has just been recorded in Italy. The same team this time headed to Southern Europe to explore the mystique, aura and fascination of a subterranean setting; full of tales, emotion and exploring the unknown. Three immensely engaging songs were previewed from this upcoming release, each providing an absorbing inspiration. ‘Pain is Gone’ and ‘Pile of Bones’ will both have their day as the album evolves, but ‘Flying Joe’ is straight off the blocks as a potential live favourite. Look out for this highly anticipated record which is set to see the light of day later this year.
You didn’t have to search too far to come across audience members attracted to this show from the Gretchen Peters angle. Therefore Ben had no hesitancy in delivering three of his songs co-written with Gretchen including two off her latest album – ‘Blackbirds’ and ‘Pretty Things’. While the first of these also appeared on Ben’s previous album ATLANTIC, there was some contemplative thought of committing the other to record in the future. Perhaps a lesser known song in ‘The Mississippi Turns Blue’ completed the trio, but still another fine effort and one of the focal points of the ATLANTIC album alongside ‘Too Long Gone’ which was featured early in the set.
There is no apology in making the review song laden as this is Ben’s golden currency and what is set to serve him well long into the future. While on the topic of remuneration, the story behind the song ‘Whatever Happens Will’ is a staple of his live show and a message that sometimes you take what you get. Just one song left to comment on and an old standard that needs little introduction other than this Kitchen Garden audience matched the Glee Club in September for ploughing their vocal might into ‘Ring of Fire’.
Ben Glover writes songs that demand intense listening and contain an earthy substance that is perfectly suited to a coarse vocal style etching each emotion conveyed in the lyrics. The merging of an Emerald Isle roaming soul with the deep psyche of the Nashville song writing community is creating an artist and performer of moving capability. The gamble of heading back to the homeland devoid of the comfort blanket has paid off. This show at the Kitchen Garden Café is the start of a very promising chapter in the musical adventure of Ben Glover.