A week ago I had the pleasure of a preview of this fine new album by its creator himself. This wasn’t a personal performance but Ben Glover’s opening for Brandy Clark in London. However, that’s the point; such is the intimacy of Ben’s music and the connection he makes that he communicates directly with his listener. Whether sitting in an audience or listening through headphones it makes no difference, this man is talking directly to me. That’s quite a skill.
This is Ben Glover's eighth full album. Originally from Northern Ireland Ben has been based in Nashville since 2009 so he can speak personally about expatriate life, although his fusion of old world traditional with all the strands of Americana makes him perfectly at home on either side of the pond. If his aim had been to create a “concept album” about emigration; why you’d leave home for a better life, the perils of the journey, the uncertainties of the new world and all their incumbent emotions, this album would be it. With two exceptions the ten tracks split into two categories; those that are written by Ben, either solo or in collaboration, and his interpretation of traditional songs. What unites them all is the sheer emotion of his voice.
The opening track, The Parting Glass, is well-known and sets the scene in its depiction of a life about to change forever. Having drained the final drop Ben whispers, “I’ll gently rise and softly call, good night and joy be with you all”. You can feel the emigrant slipping out of the pub never to be seen again. A Song of Home written by Ben and Tony Kerr tells of what the emigrant finds in the new world. Here the feeling is of a landscape far bigger than anything seen before and to cope with all that “we’ll sing a song of home”.
Written with Gretchen Peters the title track is about what drives the emigrant to find a better life despite the emotional upheavals. It’s almost as if a force far beyond any human control propels this quest, “the constant pull of another shore”, “the restlessness, the discontent, that’s the curse of the emigrant”.
Moonshiner, as the title suggests is Ben’s take on a traditional song about how the emigrant relieves the pain, “.. spent all my money on whiskey and beer”. Who can blame him? There are some lovely pipes here. Ralph McTell is the source of From Clare to Here, a classic tale of the hardship of the emigrant’s life where again drink comes to the (short-term) rescue. Ben joins forces with another top name, Marty Gauthier, to write Heart in My Hand, where the ship has set sail and there’s no going back. Brendan Behan's The Auld Triangle tells of a prisoner in the condemned cell on the banks of the Royal Canal, a waterway near Dublin, that took emigrants to England and Canada. Ben’s rasp almost spits out the sheer hopelessness of this poor soul.
No comment from me can add to the topicality of the two lines of the record’s shortest track, Dreamers, Strangers, Pilgrims so I shall just leave it at that. Listen to the album.
Eric Bogle wrote And the Band Plays Waltzing Matilda, the story of a young Australian’s experiences at Gallipoli and how he and his comrades were treated on the way there and (for those that made it) when they got home. The Green Glens of Antrim brings the album to a close. In an arrangement of another traditional song, the emigrant looks back to his home in Northern Ireland. Wherever he may be and whatever the life, good or bad home will always be, “Where the green glens of Antrim are calling me”.
A last word should recognise the quality of the musical accompaniment. For such emotion there can be few better instruments than the uilleann pipes played here beautifully by Skip Cleavinger. In ten songs Ben Glover manages to convey so much about what it must be like to leave home in search of a new life. It contains a stirring story of promise, some regret and some hope, all sung with hearfelt sincerity. It is a tremendous sweep and should end up on the shores of many a top ten albums of 2016 list.