I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that we have a soft spot for bands that have owls in their name. It’s like when you meet somebody with the same name as you, you feel a special bond and, particularly if you have a unique name, know that you are not alone.
Benjamin’s The Bear and the Barn Owl is a rich foliage of pastoral folk music. Though minimalistic in sound, Benjamin weaves stories about natural creatures and their surroundings, reminding us that there’s a whole world out there and you can always be among friends if you are bold enough to step out your door.
Like Iron & Wine’s The Creek Drank The Cradle and other lo-fi folk offerings, Benjamin’s (Ben Fretz) debut LP is not an instrumentation wonder but instead focuses on stories. In the shadow of “Old Man Mountain” or nestled in the sand “Where the Big Water Meets the Shore,” lies Benjamin’s melodic, often hushed vocals. Though he excels when using his falsetto, Benjamin experiments with different tones and pitches to maximize the lyrics’ emotional impact.
With a familiar sounding rhythm, opener “The Bear” feels like a quick hike through the forest; enough to get your boots dirty. The following song, “Songbird” is where the expanse of Benjamin really starts to be felt. Layering his vocal parts to make a melodic and detailed number, Benjamin has a soaring display of folk here.
In “Because it Bothers Me” and “Dragon of Smoke,” Benjamin covers his tracks with reverberation that casts a significant darkness over the album. In “Because it Bothers Me,” Benjamin grapples with himself and his destructive tendencies (“I fight this beasts with two left feet,” Benjamin croons in the opening lyric) while in “Dragon of Smoke,” he uses perfectly placed imagery, Middle Earth was constantly popping up in my head while listening to this LP, to describe ill-fated love.
Take a walk in the forest of Benjamin.
Top Tracks: “Songbird” ; “Where the Big Water Meets the Shore”
Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)