It has been a decade since I last listened to a new Ben Sures album; my fault, not his.
Gone to Bolivia was that album, and it was stellar; like each Ron Sexsmith album, it felt like the one that would elevate the Alberta-based folk singer to the next strata of career recognition.
I’m not sure it did, but it remains one of my favourite albums, one of those CDs occasionally pulled from the shelves for a late-evening spin.
As did that Don Kerr-produced disc, The Story That Lived Here reveals high production values with cascading scales of upright bass—sounding cello-like—and deep, forceful notes marking time from the same instrument (Scott White), with melodic accompanying vocals (Richard Moody and Rebecca Campbell) working in counterpoint to the tension of Sures’ lyrics. A class production this is then, and co-producers Moody and Sures deserve full marks for these efforts.
Upon hitting play, I was almost immediately reminded of Sures’ ability to create universal situations from that which sounds achingly personal. Again like Sexsmith, Sures possesses the heart and soul of the poet, the artist to whom words and their placement and rhythm are as vital to the communication as the subject or narrative.
Several of these songs strike a chord this month. The title track kicks a stomach hard from the opening notes and words:
In the last hours of the final days,
Fleeting moments before slipping away;
Frustration from over the years,
Unfinished conversations, maybe tears…”
While many of us have experienced the death of parents (or loved ones, in general), it is often difficult to express our feelings within a balance of reality and love without sentimentality. Sures does so ideally here.
Sures does so again within “The Story That Lived Here,” and continues it even more acutely within the following “Father’s Shoes”: “He left neon green and blue shoes no one could fill.” A bit of whimsy, certainly, but one suspects entirely grounded in reality, and as these songs reveal themselves, so do the genuine feelings held by the singer and writer. Truth rings out.
Mortality and its associated emotions for those who are left to remember appears to be at the heart of The Story That Lived Here. The cover art plainly depicts the leftovers of lives lived, the unwanted detritus of the past. Additional songs explore associated themes, “Maybe When I’m Older” most pointedly addressing the realization that our aspirations can’t define us, with “No One Will Remember You” giving truth to the inner voice too many refuse to acknowledge:
No one will remember all the things that you said;
No one will remember all the words in your head,
Or anything you tried to do: No one will remember you.
Harsh, but we know it is accurate.
In case it’s the end of the world,
and no one’s allowed to touch
I’ll find a crash test dummy, to hang out with and such
and I’ll feel less morose with my surrogate friend
Learning all the latest dance moves, oh dance me to the end.
Shades of Cohen there, and Sures captures so much of our feelings during a four-minute folk-rock song, including the capper:
In case it’s the end of the world,
I’m gonna say what I think.
Once I spill the beans, I might need a drink
‘Cause if it’s not the end of the world, and things get back on track
I’ll have said some stuff I’m never taking back.
We feel ya, Ben. We understand.
Forgive me for including so many lyrical quotes in this review, but every one of these ten songs sparkle. Other songs deliver youthful reminiscences of The Doors, children leaving home without a look back, sobriety and necessary life alterations, and dreams and opportunities shattered by fate.
Gently poignant for this listener is Sures tribute to the “Library Ladies.” While I never attended Saturday morning book shares, the school and public libraries of Leduc were sacred spaces to me, with more than one crush toward a helpful librarian developing, and their suggestions frequently pointing me in the next direction.
Sures captures the dichotomy of the past and present throughout The Story That Lived Here, a natural product of the aging mind. We look forward with some trepidation, I imagine, unsure how far it extends; more comfortable is the past, as messed up as it perhaps has been—but assured in its measure. And, as we reach our later years, we appreciate the closing thoughts of “Library Ladies”:
My library ladies were from the Sixties, excited about the world.
Now they’re old dope smoking women whose eyes twinkle like the girls.
They used to greet you from their desk right by the front door—
There’s an electronic kiosk now, two security guards or more.
Those ladies have not been shelved, you just have to wait.
They are somewhere at the back, a little harder to locate.
But if you dress up like a pirate, you will receive a smile,
And be led to chests of treasure, aisle after aisle.
I love this pair of verses which reveal the strength of nostalgia. Things have changed, but not so much that we can’t acknowledge that similar memories are being created for the young stack explorers of today.
Within “Maybe When I’m Older” Sures muses, among an extensive list of hopes and unfulfilled dreams, that:
When I hit 80, I’m gonna learn to dance,
and maybe finally write that song,
The one that says everything I ever wanted to,
with the chorus that’s 80 years strong.
If Sures hasn’t yet written that ideal song, there is no evidence of such failing within this album, and one hopes to still be around when he does.
The Story That Live Here will be a favourite of 2022, and well beyond.