Ben Fisher is a troubadour. Not just a singer of songs, Fisher tells stories with his music, keeping alive a great American tradition more in line with Bob Dylan than much of the recent “folk revival.” Fisher keeps the music classic and his vocals genuine. He sings about life and love and real people living real circumstances. This first full album Charleston is a wonderful introduction to a rising folk music star.
The opener “Mason Jar” introduces a nice singer songwriter kind of style. The backing music is very 1970s. The lead melody is a sort of James Taylor meets Cat Stevens. In fact, that’s a pretty fair assessment of Fisher’s sound overall. Oh, and hey, that’s not bad company for someone who likes to tell stories with music. “Mason Jar” has an interesting story about living life with a good friend. It emphasizes adventure in all the right ways.
“Dreaming and Doubt” is a bit more of a country song because, well, steel guitar. Aside from that Fisher sings the song with a little more of a twang. It’s a song in the second person about a man and his father, who has lived a long life. It seems to focus mostly on the wonders of the human life cycle. It’s a deeply humane reflection molded around the easy chords of a country folk song.
“Magnolia Lane” is a bit more of the folk singer style. It’s probably Fisher at his best style. It tells a story about a woman returning home to a place with a nostalgic feel. Actually his style on this track reminds me a bit more of Townes Van Zandt and the old classic folk. This isn’t the currently en vogue pop chord and gang vocal folk music. This is true natural imagery and raw music folk. But… not to be a spoiler or anything… but the ending is pretty sad.
The title track of the album “Charleston” is much more of an electric-guitar folk rock song. Fisher’s voice on this one reminds me much more of Dylan (notice that his voice seems to emulate several different singers). Like a song later on the album, this track has a focus on history. Oddly enough he doesn’t seem to say much about the city so much as just celebrating its existence. “Over the din of comparisons Charleston has always been there…” Ultimately the song isn’t about the city, it’s about home and it’s about staying ’til the end. It’s an interesting track.
“Rare Desert Rains” is a piano track that has a deeply emotional delivery. It is historical also, but with a focus on biblical history rather than national. It’s about the people of Israel hearing rare desert rain. It’s a great sound for Fisher. There’s something different about the ambiance of the track. Although it tells an important historical story, it does so without feeling forced or contrived. It’s fascinating.
Fans of “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” will enjoy “Fred McDowell.” It’s not for everyone, but the piano work is really endearing. Similarly the sweet acoustic guitar on “Cast Your Line” is a real joy. Sound again like classic folk songs of old, it’s about living life together with someone. The fishing puns will really get listeners hooked. (har har)
The hidden track “Sailing to Philadelphia” featuring Noah Gundersen is pretty much phenomenal. It’s probably my favorite tune on the entire album. There’s something about Fisher’s comfort level on the track that is just better than many of the others. Noah’s vocal tone compliments Fisher really well. Here’s the crazy thing about the track – it’s about the two surveyors that drew the Mason-Dixon line. It’s historically fascinating and just good folk music.
All told I stand by my assessment of Fisher as a “rising star” in folk music. The variety of styles on the album is interesting. I think he’s at his best with an acoustic guitar and some simple lines. That said he has a real knack for songwriting. It will be great to hear his development for his next album. I would be particularly intrigued to hear more along the lines of “Sailing to Philadelphia.” I’ll definitely be keeping my ear out for more from Ben Fisher.