When Benjamin Booker’s self-titled debut burst out in 2014, he quickly garnered a following and plenty of buzz, so it goes without saying that its follow up is highly anticipated. And from the first guitar lick, Booker does not waste the opportunity. Witness is a rollicking, charged rock record that seems to come from the depths of his soul. Booker puts his electric rasp to good use, sounding grittier than before and just about ready to explode. Witness finds Booker taking a deep look at the state of the humanity, starting with the man in the mirror.
As a whole, Witness is a catchier album that Benjamin Booker was. Booker has mastered his pop hooks, creating taut melodies and memorable choruses. The arrangements feel more lush and arresting, especially on dreamier songs like the beachy, chill “Motivation”, a track about holding yourself responsible for the things you want in life. Title track “Witness” shows off a particularly layered and beautiful harmony between instrumentals and harmonies, and boasts some stellar vocal contributions from the legendary Mavis Staples. Unsurprisingly, the duo sounds fantastic together, particularly with subtle piano keys sparkling in the background. This is Booker’s protest song, and it’s a stunner. Booker was inspired to write it by author James Baldwin’s words, and his own travels.
What makes Booker’s sound so special is the fearlessness of it. He swiftly blends rambunctious punk rock (“Right On You”) with sultry funk (“The Slow Drag Under”), creating introspective ballads about personal growth and soul-crushing anxiety (“Carry”), and live-wire amp-burners (“All Was Well”). Booker’s love for soul, R&B and blues is front and center on Witness, and his ability to channel his passion for such a diverse array of genres into a cohesive, compelling sound is a feat.