Why you should care
Because this is one of the hottest new voices of rock ’n’ roll, and it’s dripping with the blues.
You never really want your music to be too clean. It suggests conformity, and conformity isn’t rock ’n’ roll. But that’s exactly what many of rock music’s incarnations have turned to. Take a look at some of the more popular, Billboard-minded tunes: Imagine Dragon’s “Radioactive,” Paramore’s “Ain’t It Fun,” Bastille’s “Pompeii.” Clean, catchy hooks, maybe some synths and some studio tidiness are the modus operandi.
And while Benjamin Booker may not be taking an intentional stand against that sound, he is a refreshing alternative.
Booker’s sound is a bit random. His influences range from White to legendary ’20s blues guitarist Blind Willie Johnson.
Booker’s garage blues style’s success hinges on blending structure with an organic unpredictability. That goes for Booker’s voice as it swings from raspy delivery to wind tunnel-like power or the loud, in-the-moment feel of band-mate Max Norton’s drumming. The music has a live aesthetic with a definitively raw feel that’s unmistakably of the South.
The 24-year-old, originally from Tampa Bay, Florida, only began performing live shows in 2012. He eventually grew tired of playing solo acoustic shows for empty rooms in New Orleans and decided to form a band, according to Rolling Stone.
Booker’s had a decent amount of luck since. A representative of ATO Records (My Morning Jacket, Alabama Shakes) just happened to be at one of his band’s shows — ATO later signed Booker. Since, he’s had some big success: this year, Booker performed at the Late Show With David Letterman and today he’s touring with blues rock king Jack White. Booker had White’s poster on his wall when he was 13. All of this music-making wasn’t even in Booker’s original plans; he went to journalism school before this all went down.
He’s a little bit random, and so, too, is his sound. The rocker’s influences range from White to legendary ’20s blues guitarist Blind Willie Johnson. You can hear strands of them on his tracks Violent Shiver and Have You Seen My Son? (the two singles off his upcoming self-titled debut) but they’re far from derivative. You can imagine the memorable riff from the former suddenly pouring out of an old-timey jukebox. It quickly turns into another beast once the high-octane guitars and cymbals start splashing, with Booker leading the whole machine like a conductor gone mad.
Booker one-ups himself on the five-minute, multi-section Have You Seen My Son? It’s full of manic and bedlam — and we’re not complaining. The lyrics of this number concern a religious father pleading for his son’s soul. The video, which hit the Internet on July 21, finds Booker journeying through Virginia’s James River Correctional Facility. Whether his form of blues is really a means to relieve some sort of inner guilt is up for the listener to decide. But Booker does make some thrilling material. Hopefully his debut, which drops August 19, features more of that excitement.
Brian Josephs is a writer stationed in Brooklyn, New York. He’s a hip-hop apologist who strives to deliver the goods.