Kill or Cure (2008)
An Orphan’s Song (2008)
Ben Walker was born Benjamin Ward in London, England in 1968, moving to the county of Suffolk in 1980. He studied classical piano at Colchester Instute, jazz piano at Leeds College of Music and jazz singing and mandolin at Middlesex University and William Paterson College, New Jersey, gaining a first class degree in Performance Arts from Middlesex University in 1994.
Walker started writing songs in 1983 and making cassette albums in 1990. His first CD, ‘Bahaudin’, was recorded at Frog Studios, Warrington, Cheshire in 1999/2000. A steady period of gigs and appearances in West Yorkshire, Suffolk, London, New Jersey and Toronto from 2002-6 was followed by a creative period that culminated in the release of 2 new CDs – ‘An Orphan’s Song: Ben Walker Sings Stuart Ross’ and ‘Kill or Cure’ in 2008.
Walker moved to Toronto in 2010 , appearing with Gare Black and Alfred Gertler as ‘Ben and Gary’s Ice Cream Band’ in 2011/12. His latest CD, ‘Gorgeous’, is a reworking of 12 songs from his early cassette albums recorded and produced by Walker and featuring his customary diverse selection of styles and musicians.
Ben Walker has worked with members of Lindisfarne, 10cc, New Model Army, Jools Holland’s Rhythm and Blues Orchestra and The Sunparlour Players as well as noted jazz and folk musicians Nigel Stonier, Patrick Naylor, Kevin James and David French. Walker is currently appearing with guitarist James Rohr as The Ben Walker Duo.
Idiom, style and musical history are important to all of the releases in this roundup, but to none more than to Gorgeous. To Ben Walker the question of style is one to be asked in respect of every song, in the same way as key and tempo, and one that should be answered with the same technical accuracy. There is a very sophisticated and erudite use of idiom at the centre of his creative practice, and his songs are crafted in thorough, rigorous detail, but they are nevertheless expressive rather than rhetorical. There is a refusal of any attempt to ‘persuade’ the listener, letting each song sink or swim on its own terms in a way that is as self-effacing as the sometimes jarringly honest production. Humour and irony are an integral part of the lyrical content: the sardonically glamourised banality of ‘Ipswich’, the overtly jokey ‘So Hard’, or the observational absurdities of ‘Biscuit Festival’ and ‘Vegeburgers’ are all striking examples, but there’s wit in every line, and I don’t hear any of these pieces as comic songs. They are simply songs that were written by someone with a sense of humour. There’s an almost punk aesthetic in the unadorned directness of the performances and recordings, even in the playfully ersatz jazz standard ‘Gorgeous’, or the harmonically shapely bluegrass of ‘Broad Daylight’; but the default stylistic position, when Walker is not paying well-informed homage to some other tradition, is a take on the kind of literate, jazz-inflected pop espoused by Steely Dan. That Walker does not have access to that band’s production budgets or world-class session players doesn’t hamper him in any way however, just the opposite: there’s a simplicity in the way his material is presented that showcases the work of composition, while the songs’ realisation fades transparently into the background. And each song bears the detailed scrutiny this invites; every instrumental obbligato, every passing chord, every lyrical assonance or wry pun is precisely judged and aesthetically exact. This music articulates Walker’s subjectivity with the kind of particularity that can only be achieved by someone who knows their language inside out, who has reflectively examined their own practice with an unflinching eye and pared away all the flab. I sometimes get the impression quite a lot has been pared away that I might have enjoyed, but it’s better to edit ruthlessly than self-indulgently, and what’s left is as irreducible as the deftly outlined characters and situations that inhabit the songs. I should declare my interest, and admit that he gave me some of my first playing opportunities when I got serious about playing music myself, but Ben Walker is the real deal, an artist that creates because he has no other option, and Gorgeous finds him at the top of his game. Simply superb.
KILL OR CURE(2008)
Having been on the folk scene in the UK and abroad for over ten years, and having played gigs all over the world, Ben is now based in Bradford, and launched his new CD Kill or Cure in Leeds. With excellent lyrics and a fantastic duet with Kate Peters on the fantastic Hold On To Your Hard Times, this is a brilliant CD.
(With) some fantastic harmonies, great guitar picking and vocal and musical arrangements that are McCartneyesque in parts, with a lyrical bite of Richard Thompson and veering from style to style, this is a stunning album and well worth investigating.
Journal of the Classic Rock Society, August 2009
Ben Walker illustrates his talented skills as a musician as he sings effortlessly on Kill or Cure. Walker also plays piano, electric guitar and bouzouki, all to a high standard, which seems flawless. Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day is a great song to put on every night before you retire for bed, as it unwinds and relaxes you. In a way, after listening to the peaceful song, I felt cleansed from my bad energies.
Vocally, Walker has a soothing and calming voice and he knows exactly how to use it to his benefit. I can definitely see a selection of songs such as God gaining airplay on radio stations such as Magic and BBC2 (sic.) Overall this is a fine piece of work Ben has put together with the help of his band.
Maverick Magazine, September 2009
Ben Walker’s sixth album consolidates his reputation as a bit of an underground star. The London-born, West Yorkshire-based songwriter has assembled a stellar bunch of musicians including Derek Nash (Eric Clapton, Jools Holland), whose playing floats above ‘Love in London’, to realize his eclectic mix of pop, rock and jazz
The melodies are wonderfully engaging, especially ‘Hold On To Your Hard Times’, featuring a strong vocal from Kate Peters, and ‘Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day’, while lyrically we’re into some dark territory. Walker deserves his shot.
R2 Magazine, September 2009
AN ORPHAN’S SONG: BEN WALKER SINGS STUART ROSS(2008)
Ben Walker really must love Stuart Ross’s work because, unless you’re Leonard Cohen, releasing a CD of poetry set to music is a commercially risky venture, to say the least. But it’s obvious there’s much love in this collection of tunes appropriated (with a bit of editing) from four of Stu’s small-press poetry collections, with the UK-based Walker lending not only vocals but also acting as a one-man band.
Stuart often seems perplexed when people say they find some of his surreal poetry funny. Well, funny a lot of it is, and many of the poems are even funnier when set to music. “Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Ron Padgett” is pure genius. No. 1 with a silver bullet.
Taddle Creek Magazine, 2008
IF YOU WANT LOVE (HAVE MINE)(2004)
Ben’s soft-rock sound has been recorded on what many would now consider an old-fashioned setup, but it’s still a perfectly capable one. Only one song was recorded on the Cubase system as a bit of an experiment, while the rest of the demo was recorded to ADAT.
The warm electric bass and unfussy electric guitar sounds show a production approach which leans towards the ‘live in the studio’ style of demo. Ben’s website confirms that this was what he was aiming for, and the CD has a certain charm which might have been lost had he gone for a more polished sound. Having said that, some obvious extras would improve the arrangements. For example, the second verse and bridge on the first track (If You Want Love) badly need backing vocals or some of the excellent brass playing from the third verse to lift them dynamically.
The second song (Don’t Interfere With Beauty) has an early Beatles feel, courtesy of the simple harmonica line echoing the sung melodies. It also features a slightly more animated vocal performance from Ben, and he could have capitalised on this lift in energy level with a sharper EQ on the brass. Yet as it stands, the combination of electric piano and brass creates a smoky club atmosphere that still works well
Having enjoyed the fairly under-produced sound of the band, it was interesting to hear a more complex and modern approach on the fourth track (Altitude). This incorporates a busy drum loop and sampled bass with some atmospheric keyboard work. The sound of the vocal is helped by what is obviously a better microphone than the one used on the preceding tracks, but band bassist Nick Aynsley should have been drafted in for the session — he could have provided a much better groove than the bass samples do. Overall, the recording quality is better on this fourth track but as it’s in contrast to the live and loose feel of the rest of the tracks, it comes over as a bit of an experiment.
Sound on Sound, April 2005
Enigmatic hooded figure walking amongst northern mills is the image presented. The music is not so enigmatic, having at times a blues feel and at other times a soft rock feel, the whole mounted in a setting of eight very capable backing musicians. The lyrics have the feeling of angst, a traditional feeling beloved of the singer-songwriter, and one or two are amusingly quirky (‘I got room for manoeuvre/ I got space to spare/ I got dust in my hoover/ Ice in my frigidaire’)
Track 5, ‘Feel Like Gideon’, has (the narrator) not being satisfied but, unlike Gideon, he doesn’t “defeat an army, numbered like locusts, with only 300 men “. Slightly disappointing.
‘The Poisoned Heart’ hits the country and western trail but has a comforting scales-falling-from-eyes ending. This might be a religious allegory…or I missed the point, which isn’t at all unusual…proving that Ben’s songs can work on different levels, but whatever the intellectual level, it’s a good song.
The title is enigmatic also, being the name of a Sufi master (Bahaudin Naqshband, died c1389), credited with having “returned to the original principles and practices of Sufism”. I mention this as it is the title of the CD, but the CD is not suffused with Sufism, that I noticed.
All in all, a very pleasing set from this drum-and-guitar-based band, not very folky, or even acoustic, but entertaining.
Tykes News, Summer 2004
WARM AND NORMAL(1993)
Ben Ward, a native Englishman who we first met when he showed up at a jam we were hosting, blew the socks off the audience with his provocative songs, sung accompanied only by his earnest mandolin playing.
When we met Ward he was a student on vacation who was becoming increasingly reluctant to go home. The way people responded to his material, and meeting people he came to care about, worked their magic.
The realities of immigration/exportation prevailed last summer, so for many months, Ward and his music were just a memory, accompanied by a postcard. Then, at Christmas, he reappeared at a favourite jam venue – West Side Johnny’s – with a copy of this tape, recorded in the UK, in hand.
We choose this time to devote this space to give Ward two thumbs up for this tape. We know Ward will be back: he may be part of this future Toronto scene developing; this could be a hot collector’s item someday. Oh ya, in case we forgot to mention it, the music and tunes are awesome!
Gary 17, T.O. Nite, January 1994
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