Ben Wilkins – self titled (Milagro) review
The most melodic album of the year comes from a young songwriter from Canada. Ben Wilkins’ self-titled debut is full of memorable hooks and echoes of the past. His excellent piano work and pleasant vocals recall a time when singer/songwriters dominated the charts of the early Seventies. But, what truly makes this album a throwback is Wilkins choice of recording technique – choosing to utilize a real string section, horns and background vocals. This, intertwined with his keen melodic sense, make for an album that sounds incredibly fresh amongst all the digital sampling of today.
For a guy who obviously experienced the decade secondhand, Wilkins shows an uncanny ability to meld the pop and soul influences of the 1970’s into something original. Take “Soup For One,” which begins with just voice and piano (reminiscent of something Todd Rundgren might’ve written back in the day), then increases in tempo and morphs into a disco-infused chorus, complete with a string arrangement which is absolute ear candy. “Caught in the Rain” begins with a bouncy, Pepper-era Beatles riff before giving way to an acapella section that sounds like Earth Wind & Fire. “Allison,” with its breezy melody and ukulele, hides its darker subject matter. The album’s first single,“Through to You,” with its funky beat, strings and horns, has an almost reggae feel to it. “Back of My Head” is another standout with great background vocals. There really isn’t a bad song here, with every single track having a memorable hook.
The sound quality of the album is phenomenal. Because it was recorded “old school,” to fully enjoy all the nuances of the lush arrangements, do yourself a favor and actually grab the CD – the difference between it and a compressed version in mp3 is remarkable. Credit for the great sound goes in part to happenstance, where Wilkins was given unlimited access to a big recording studio, while the producer was out of town. The care that went into the record is definitely noticeable.
At present, this excellent debut is only available in import form, and as an mp3 download on amazon and Itunes. Here’s hoping Wilkins can catch on with a US label, and we can get more great songs from this up-and-coming talent. –Tony Peters