Ben de la Cour- Under a Wasting Moon   Leave a comment

I love when things just come together. Looking for a very impressive debut album that isn’t perfect? Look no further. While many albums now come near-perfect in every respect- and as such, become less than ideal- Ben de la Cour’s first offering is not flawless. What a great collection! The album touched me, and not just for the inclusion of a song written about my home province. Good stuff.

Ben de la Cour
Under a Wasted Moon
3.5 stars (out of 5)

By Donald Teplyske

Here’s the problem. I can’t get totally excited about music I receive for review when it arrives via the wireless medium. Such music tends to sit in my inbox, and once in a while—like last August when I received Under a Wasted Moon—gets forgotten about.

There is so much more to an album than the music, and as convenient as downloads are for immediate listening something of significance is lost when one doesn’t hold the compact disc in hand. For example, who is playing what? Where was the album recorded? When? Who wrote the songs and under what circumstances? And don’t get me started on the lack of album art and packaging.

With a reminding email from my editor as impetus, I finally downloaded Ben de la Cour’s debut release on a chilly fall afternoon. Sometimes, things work out beautifully.

While I’m sure I would have enjoyed Under a Wasted Moon during mid-summer, de la Cour’s is an autumn album, one that laments the past while looking toward a challenging future. Much like Justin Vernon’s For Emma, Forever Ago this is a lyrically rich collection of songs framed by just the right amount of instrumentation.

The overall mood of the 11 pieces is consistently bleak, poetically gentle, and thoroughly engaging. Names such as Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, and Townes Van Zandt have been bandied about when reviewing this album elsewhere, and while all may be appropriate in some ways, such are a bit of a reach for an artist whose previous excursion in music was fronting a London-based doom metal band called Dead Man’s Root.

Ray Lamontagne might be a better leaping point. Like Lamontagne has, there is a primitive soulfulness in de la Cour’s voice although de la Cour’s is admittedly not as smooth. The vocal presentation is where Van Zandt comparisons would be most apt; one can easily picture Townes exploring these themes in a similar vocal style.

With several of the songs feature little more than de la Cour and a guitar, this is an album that leaves a lot of room for words and chords to float. “Rabbit Starvation” is a banjo-based tune that takes minimalism to a bit of an extreme, but elsewhere things are more embellished.

The lead off numbers “Sobriety and the Woman” and “Down in Babylon” set a rather high bar in performance and writing. Singing in a voice not far removed from the shattered glass of which he sings, de la Cour pulls listeners close with the first song. Singing of a departing lover, “Down in Babylon” is a number that contains shadows of Van Zandt’s legacy.

Where a Los Angeles-based, Brooklyn-raised, transplanted Londoner hears about the first sanctioned hanging to happen in the land now called Alberta is one of those mysteries I hope I never have uncovered. What de la Cour has done with “The Ballad of John Runner” is recreate with deft word selection a story 130 years in the telling.

Cree guide Ka-Ki-Si-Kutchin was convicted of slaughtering and cannibalizing his family during the winter of 1878 just a few dozen miles from where I was born and raised; while de la Cour takes liberty with place names and pronunciation, he has crafted a haunting folk song that is every bit as nuanced as Eliza Gilkyson’s “Ballad of Yvonne Johnson” and Ian Tyson and Tom Russell’s “Claude Dallas.”

“The River Song” is comparatively up-tempo. In times lyrically awkward (“She’s sweet enough to make the willow tree bend” begins one couplet), de la Cour’s innocent earnestness appeals. With sentiments that could be found equally often on a Louvin Brothers album or within a Springsteen classic, the bones of a lasting song are obvious.

Not perfect, and likely not for everyone, Under a Wasted Moon provides a deep, devastating, listen that will not soon be forgotten.


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