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CD REVIEW: Ben Sures - Field Guide to Loneliness
By Chip Withrow - 03/09/2008 - 09:23 PM EDT

Artist: Ben Sures
Album: Field Guide to Loneliness
Genre: Folk/Rock
Sounds Like: Justin Roberts, James Taylor, Tom Waits
Technical Grade: 10/10
Production/Musicianship Grade: 10/10
Commercial Value: 9/10
Overall Talent Level: 10/10
Songwriting Skills: 10/10
Performance Skill: 10/10
Best Songs: My Last Girlfriend, Who Killed the Last Folksinger, Winnipeg, Lettuce and Tomato
CD Review: “Who killed the last folksinger?” wonders Ben Sures. Well, as long as he’s doing what he does here, there’s always going to be one really good one left in the world.

Very rarely, I receive a CD that just blows me away from the opening notes. Field Guide to Loneliness is such a disc. Ben Sures is a wonderful storyteller and a nimble guitar picker. He writes tales that are vivid, personal and concise. Not a wasted word or note here – every song clocks in at under four minutes and lingers in your head much longer.

The first acoustic notes of “Dancer” lured me in – the song has a gentle bounce and tells a sad, touching story. If every song were in this style, the whole album would still be a worthwhile listen. And then comes the cool, quirky “Used To Have a Raygun.” (And just the other night, I was telling my wife and daughter how I used to daydream in elementary school about having one.) It has a nifty guitar hook, spry hand percussion, and clever-as-heck lyrics.

Then there’s the rocking, catchy “My Last Girlfriend” – peppy harmonica from Mike McDonald, Sures’ fuzzed-up raving guitar, and cute ’50-style backing vocals. In the same vein, and just as awesome, is the aforementioned “Who Killed the Last Folksinger?” It has a jam band vibe, Sures’ exuberant vocal, and Corey Ticknor’s percussive, plucky mandolin.

At the other end of the spectrum, yet fine in their own right, are the jazzy, Tom Waits-ish “Bachelors” and “Not On the Town.” “Bachelors” is darkly personal, a glimpse into a sad man’s life. “Town” is even old-timier, with Sures nailing a brilliant solo and a sassy male-female vocal duet that sounds like the script of an old movie.

“Til I Learned to Cook for You” and “Winnipeg” are sweet and sad. Cook nails another smooth guitar solo, and “Winnipeg” features Burke Carroll’s slippery pedal steel. I dig the sense of bittersweet regret in both, and the lyric images in “Winnipeg” are especially vivid.

OK, so what else can Sures do? Well, there’s the bossa bounce of “Under Water,” an environmental tale told from the point of view of a fish – jazzy guitar (including a groovy, too-short bass and guitar interlude) and absolutely charming backing vocals. And the driving “Squeezed Out Of the Sky,” twangy rockabilly that belies the lyrical lament of resigned defeat.

“Lettuce and Tomato” is my current (as of this writing) favorite – a flurry of mandolin punctuating a poignant tale of the uneasy relationship between kids and their parents. Then comes “Man on the Verge,” the heart-on-your-sleeve, confessional closing track, Sahra Featherstone’s violin floating like a sweet kiss goodbye.

I just had to play this album for my wife, and she enjoyed it, too. With Field Guide to Loneliness, Ben Sures has delivered a gem, and I’ll just leave it at that.

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