Brendan Benson – You Were Right by Iris North
Brendan Benson – You Were Right
2013, Readymade Records / LoJinx Records
American singer-songwriter Brendan Benson’s sixth full-length studio album, You Were Right, was released on his own label, Readymade Records, in 2013. Released that same year in Europe under Lojinx, the disc is a compilation: originally, industrious Benson’s (long term) goal was to release one song per month for a year. Then the goal shifted to include compiling all of the released singles into an album, and releasing said album. As vividly crafted as the Middle Ages-tapestry-inspired snarling wolf painted on the album’s cover, You Were Right is quintessential American rock and roll, with occasional subtle nods to country & western.
You Were Right is nicely sequenced, with a cohesive, easygoing flow. The songs on the album are sequenced differently then how they were released as singles, so there’s a bit more stylistic cohesion on the full-length then ‘as released as singles’. Due to a competent engineering and mastering job, the album doesn’t seem to present itself as ‘a collection of singles’: it sounds like a singular work composed for a typical full-length album recording session.
Benson’s vocals have a charismatic “plain, everyday” timbre that unveils a practiced voice with an outstanding range. One of the stand-out features, on both You Were Right and Benson’s earlier works, is the charming, masterful prosody: how he weaves common
colloquialisms into his songs, and how he elevates and accentuates those humble, common-man lines through careful titling and phrasing. Suddenly, invectives and jabs like “she’s trying to poison me” or “it’s your choice” go from flip, wry jokes to “wow”, on-point titles. It’s in his “embellished autobiographical” lyrics and witty, candid, slightly bitter, stinging barbs that Benson connects as comfortably as a friend we’ve sat down to dinner with for years. His intuitive and introspective prose relates easily. We get the distinct sense that he’s been dragged, kicking and screaming, around the proverbial block several times by two forces he’s so intimately associated with: the (music) business, and women. That Benson is so efficiently able to articulate his feelings and life experiences is notable: very few have this degree of insight or gab. Fewer still can set their lives to song.
The entire disc sports a lush, full band sound: the songs showcase the band as a whole, or a singular entity, not it’s parts. Without being over-arranged, each band member’s instrument contributes to the song’s ebb and flow. In that respect, it’s not one of those folk singer-songwriter discs; this is both classic and contemporary Brendan Benson as a band member, not a soloist. The drum sound between Brad Pemberton and Matt Mahaffey is consistent, enough that it’s not possible to pick out who’s playing on what songs. You Were Right features guitar, bass, and keyboard contributions from Big Star alumni John Auer and Ken Stringfellow, as well as bass guitar and keyboard contributions from Nashville studio ace Seth Timbs.
Overall, a lot of the tunes reflect back to an earlier era, a time gone by. Benson pays homage to many 50s and 60s influences – in groove, in tone, and in instrumentation. It does paint a nice, wide swath of rock variety, bringing in an adventurous range of tunes. Nicely balanced, and well-arranged, the overall presentation is reflective, modern, classy, top-shelf pop rock songwriting. You Were Right is crisp, clear, and not over-compressed: it sports a warm, vintage drum sound coupled to a ‘retro’ rock tone. While it has studio polish, it’s not one of those slick “digital” releases. This album is difficult to critique because so many of the songs are strong, and so many of them overtly sport Benson’s stylistic “trademarks”.
Angry and fed up with boredom and fighting, “As of Tonight” is Benson’s homage to the grim resolve of leaving a destructive relationship. There’s a fantastic three note bass guitar lead-in to this tune, which does have a tangy country twang in spots. The song’s chorus is reminiscent of old Tom Petty – surprising, strongly melodic, dynamic, and punchy. There’s a stellar dynamic switch from the mellow, country-tinged verses to the punchy, modern alt rock chorus. It’s in this song that we hear the lyric which spawned the album’s title, “you were right”.
“Diamond” weaves a charming tale of love and lust, of never wanting to be separated from your special someone. It features a pleasing swirling flange effect on guitar, a joyous vertigo-inducing motif that leads into a relaxed, summery song. The near a capella bridge, and use of different percussion (bongos) accents an already quirky tune. “Long Term Goal” starts right off with the makings of a jaunty pop rock anthem. In this song dedicated to the life process of professional musicianship, Benson relates loneliness, longing, procrastination, and frustration. The music has a wonderful reverb coupled to restrained ‘rock power’ chords. It also has some of the funniest lyrics: “Wake up from your pipe dream – take your sorry ass and crawl back in your hole”. The singalong “whoa” backing vocal ought to be an audience favorite. Benson’s harmonic vocal offers a great counterpoint to the core melody of the song.
While there are no per-song performer credits available, fellow Raconteur (and Waxwing) Dean Fertita played the piano part during a live rendition of “Swallow You Whole”. Swanky, up-front piano is neatly meshed to guitar in an intro reminiscent of walking in to a saloon in an old Western flick. Backing vocals are subtle and agreeable; choruses are more straight-ahead indie rock. This is a pleasant, middle-of-the-road tune, with a catchy “earworm” chorus. An apt warning against life- and soul-draining control freaks, the song has a great groove. The remarkable time and tempo shift coda takes the song into a completely different era.
Now, for the hilarious lyric award, from “She’s Trying To Poison Me”: “She’s trying to poison me… she put something in my drink… It makes me feel dizzy… she’s not even that pretty.” This is a very melodic tune, a wry and ever-so-cautionary piece penned about a (dream?) date gone either very wrong, or very right. The lead horn lines might seem a little affected, but if this tune was done with electric guitar – even a 12-string – playing that lead melody, it might take a harder-rock, even punk, direction, which isn’t the artist’s intent. As it is, it’s fantastic to listen to strictly for it’s melodic and harmonic consonance.
Acoustic guitar makes an entrance during the keyboard-rich, bittersweet waltz, “New Words Of Wisdom”. Seeming depressed, dejected, wounded, and weary, Benson writes “New Words of Wisdom” about a scene from yet another failed relationship. Collaborator Ashley Monroe’s vocal harmonizing shines during the light, airy, folksy “Swimming”. Benson’s vocal is forward and humble. “Red White and Blues” returns the disc to the traditional American rock form it began with. There is some acoustic (and some slide) guitar, but for the most part, this is a fairly typical, rollicking rock song, right down to the “enjoyability factor”. As the song title indicates, it’s a blues-based tune, pleasant and fun.
Through gift of gab and force of will, hard-working Brendan Benson produced another enjoyable and roll album. You Were Right isn’t a radical departure from his earlier material. The disc won’t alienate older fans. Jam-packed with melody and catchy pop hooks, it’s both a reflective and progressive work that meshes some of his contemporary influences with his classic rock foundations. Songs are radio-friendly length, catchy tunes with simpler pop backbones: it’s good old-school rock. Nicely written, songs are melodic and feature very nice vocal lines, Benson’s lovely voice, and plenty of electric guitar. What a priviledge it is, in this day and age, to follow along with a creator – an artist – as they undertake a journey lasting a full year. This is a disc which leaves a lingering, slightly sad feeling, when those final notes fade into silence…
– Iris North, PlanetMosh
Track Listing with Run times:
It’s Your Choice — 3:34
Rejuvenate Me — 2:26
As of Tonight — 3:07
Diamond — 2:58
Long Term Goal — 2:42
I Don’t Wanna See You Anymore — 3:15
I’ll Never Tell — 3:16
Swallow You Whole — 3:41
She’s Trying to Poison Me — 2:31
Purely Automatic — 4:34
New Words of Wisdom — 3:02
Oh My Love — 2:58
The Fritz — 1:37
Swimming — 3:49
Red White and Blues — 3:00
Brendan Benson – Vocals, Guitar
Ashley Monroe – Vocals
Jon Auer – Guitar, Bass Guitar
Ken Stringfellow – Bass Guitar, Keyboards
Seth Timbs – Bass Guitar, Keyboards
Dean Fertita – Keyboards
Brad Pemberton – Drums, Percussion
Matt Mahaffey – Drums