Ben Fisher‘s Roanoke EP comes on the heels of his 2011 debut album Heavy Boots and Underwoods. The latter showed flashes of brilliance and foreshadowed a bright future for folk-singer Fisher; Roanoke is where he starts to build on that foundation. Since The Tallest Man on Earth’s nasally voice is a high price of entry, opener “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” becomes instantly likable by aping Kristian Matsson’s carefree strum and pairing it with Fisher’s low voice. “Dublin Blues Pt. 2″ puts some forlorn but interesting lyrics into a country mold, with good results. But it’s “Hibernation” that sticks with me, as the gently fingerpicked tune sounds like a calmed-down Tallest Man in both the vocals and the guitar. The melodic flourishes that fill it out give a sense of Josh Ritter-esque gravitas, while not feeling too much like a Ritter tune. The title track is a high-desert tune with pedal steel, shakers and a wide-open feel; “To Conclude…” is a quiet strummer, but the vocals push a little hard against the gentle track.
That push and pull between gentle and intense is where Fisher lives on this EP (his bio says that he “tends to bellow”), but he doesn’t turn gentle songs into roars (like Damien Rice) or speed them way up (The Tallest Man on Earth). Instead, he fills his gentle performances with a confident energy. It’s a tough thing to explain, but that’s why it’s great: it sets Fisher apart. I’m looking forward to more tunes from Fisher, as Roanoke is a satisfying chapter in Fisher’s songwriting that points towards more good in the future.
White Blush‘s bedroom electronica is of the claustrophobic, moody and sparse type. I’m not too familiar with the genre, but I checked it out due to the Portishead connections I heard in the sound. Carol Rhyu’s music is much more mellow and free-flowing than Portishead’s lock-step trip-hop, but both share the ability to traverse in dark sounds without sounding particularly evil or sad. They just like hanging out in the nighttime, it seems. “Without You” builds from some fragmented melodic elements into a swirling, pensive tune. “808 Myst” is an eerie sort of chiptune piece that traffics in the same moody vein as “Without You,” while “Wait” is a stark tune that strips her sound down to vocals, a casio and soft rhythmic thumps. It’s oddly intriguing, just as the other two tunes. White Blush has delivered three beautiful tunes here; fans of ambient or other quiet electro would really enjoy this.
Josh Ritter’s debut Hello, Starling showed flashes of brilliance that hinted at the incredible things to come. Seattle singer/songwriter Ben Fisher‘s Heavy Boots and Underwoods gives off a similar vibe. This connection is partly invoked by Fisher’s choice of sounds, as he writes in organ sounds similar to those used on Starling standout “Kathleen” in opener “Thunderbird” and “Stars Like Bears.” Another aspect is Fisher’s confident vocal delivery: clear and bright, his inflection-laden tenor carries the album.
Written and recorded with deep attention to detail, the songs on Heavy Boots and Underwoods are uniformly beautiful. That beauty manifests in many ways: easygoing charm (“Cast Your Line”), dramatic storytelling (“El Llano Estacado”), off-the-cuff folk strum (the title track) and more. Fisher is adept at guitar and banjo, bringing a great deal of variation to song moods with his multi-tasking instrumental skills.
As Starling sets a foundation for Ritter, so does Heavy Boots and Underwoods for Fisher. It’s clear to me that Fisher has a unique songwriting skill that he is only beginning to tap: subsequent albums should help him break away from his Ritter comparisons and into his own voice. The tightly-reined intensity that runs through “El Llano Estacado” and “Bed of Ash” points to a future lyrical and/or musical ferocity that could put Fisher on some big stages.
Heavy Boots and Underwoods is a rare treat: a singer/songwriter’s debut that puts a foot toward a unique future while tipping a hat to its forebears. Highly recommended.