Album of the Week: Benjamin Booker, 'Witness'

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Benjamin Booker, 'Witness'
Benjamin Booker's new album, 'Witness,' is out now. (ATO Records)
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Benjamin Booker's wickedly anticipated second album Witness comes as a challenging effort to live up to his 2014 self-titled debut. At that time, people happily scrapped to define his sound: Punk Boogie? Garage Soul? One thing most agreed on was Benjamin Booker had the makings of an artist with staying power. His influences were groovy and eclectic, and he clearly had something to say.

Right away, my takeaway from his debut album and the latest, Witness, is Benjamin Booker has a great ability to make retro appreciation sound very modern. On his second album — filled with brightly lit rocking blues, soul, and gospel-inspired tunes — Booker clearly is brimming over with new ideas and thoughts about the world we occupy.

Witness busts a nut with the first track — a rockin' freak out, "Right On." Maybe it's as close as he'll get to a continuation of the raw and catchy "Violent Shiver."

The title track feels like going to church without the shame. A sweeping choir makes this the coolest congregation you could be in. Highlighting the legendary vocals of Mavis Staples, Benjamin brings us down to reality with the lines, "Everybody brown can get the f*** on the ground" and "See we thought that we saw that he had a gun." Booker's commentary on racism doesn't come with a solution but rather passionate questioning and justifiable anger.

"Believe" is a powerful song showcasing Booker's soulful voice and helpless lament of wanting to believe in something, not caring if it's right or it's wrong. "Motivation," with its thoughtful lyrics and accents of cello and violin add weight to the theme of bearing witness. It's comparable to what Booker's hero James Baldwin said in a 1984 New York Times interview with Julius Lester, about an artist's obligation to bearing witness to the life you and others live: "I know what I've seen and what I've seen makes me know I have to say, I know."

Resources


Benjamin Booker - Official Site

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