Wednesday, 16 May 2018

GIG REVIEW: Ben Glover - Kitchen Garden, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Tuesday 15th May 2018

The jigsaw puzzle of Ben Glover’s music continues to edge towards completion, although the grand picture is ultimately likely to be a fluid one. So maybe the journey of fitting all the pieces is where the true treasures lie. From an enhanced listener perspective, the journey picked up the pace around half a dozen years ago with an opening slot for Gretchen Peters; an alliance that continues to blossom. Subsequently, several strands of his work have fermented into a bubbling pot of collaboration, inner and outer discovery, soul-searching and forging a bond with a growing audience on a multitude of platforms. The latest piece added is to take the brand new album SHOREBOUND out on the road, particularly back to the old country. The Kitchen Garden in Birmingham has been kind to provide a canvas for the solo live output in the past and there was no surprise in it cropping up again on the itinerary. As previously, Colm McClean joined Ben on electric guitar resulting in the night probably eclipsing last time on a number of fronts.

There was a heightened poise and a tightening of the sound, both easily detected from the floor alongside an optimum balance between song delivery and the all-important songwriter’s musings. The latter reveals Ben as a top-notch operator, mixing the creatively informative with the deeply philosophical, all brought together by a distinct Northern Irish brogue and a canny knack of controlling the intensity switch. Musically, the interaction with Colm clicked as suspected it would, thus whetting the appetite for his appearance with Gretchen Peters on her upcoming UK tour. Vocally, Ben’s delivery had its gruffness slightly smoothed, without any edge or impassioned sentiment lost. Of course, you can say ‘it is the songs that are imperative’, and it shaped up nicely in that sphere as well.

Topical mooting here has been about album cycles and the bedding in process of certain songs. When you excavate such depths in the search for a perfect song, there is an inevitability of some requiring listener adjustment and renewed interaction to grasp. After all, we are not in quick fix territory here. From the evidence of tonight’s show, it was the maturity of some of the older songs leading to a greater impact. Indeed, Ben implied the infancy of SHOREBOUND, and it will be in good company if the songs come to fruition in the live format a little further down the line. Co-incidentally, out of the two-earworm efforts from the album – ‘Ride the River’ was probably the pick of the pack, while ‘Wild Fire’ was left in the studio. The songs from this new release will have their day, and it would not be surprising if ‘Kindness’ becomes an inbuilt staple of future sets.

If pushed into a corner to name a standout number from the show, it would probably fall between ‘The Emigrant’ and ‘Oh Soul’. Both were emotively delivered and are likely to be very dear to Ben’s heart for different reasons. The unfiltered live environment ideally suits them.

While not being a major focus, Ben’s other project The Orphan Brigade figured in a couple of track selections, accompanied by the obligatory enchanting story in the case of ‘Flying Joe’ from the HEART OF THE CAVE album. SOUNDTRACK TO A GHOST STORY was represented by the buoyant ‘Sweetheart’ and by blending ‘Trouble My Heart (Harriett)’ into a closing medley alongside the standard finale ‘The Parting Glass’. It is suspected that there is a lot more mileage left in The Orphan Brigade, as long as some of life’s mysteries remain untold and the protagonists retain a thirst for committing them to song.

On an evening where the subject of ‘home’ cropped up on a couple of occasions, it was apt that Ben turned to his fellow Northern Irishman Van Morrison for an encore version of ‘Into the Mystic’, a welcome change from the Johnny Cash cover. Of course, ‘physical’ home means Nashville, a town in tune with what Ben Glover wants from music, even when subjects are sourced from around the world.

There was a refrain from anointing SHOREBOUND as his finest album to date; time will ultimately judge the body of his work. On the other hand, there is no holding back in stating that Ben Glover’s live performance at the Kitchen Garden in Birmingham, date stamped 2018, is his best yet from a sample size beginning to grow.

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