Ben Winship – Acorns – Snake River Records – Review by John Apice
This is the 2nd of two full releases (TOOLSHED & ACORNS) by prolific Americana artist & Idaho studio owner Ben Winship. Both LPs scheduled to release July 19th.
While TOOLSHED was more band-oriented, ACORNS is closer to the earth, organic, rural, more traditional. Guests abound with banjos, fiddles, mandolins, mandolas, acoustic guitars. A place where former Jefferson Airplane/Hot Tuna stablemates Jorma Kaukonen & Jack Cassady, or the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia could’ve found a seat. There’s an abundance of traditionally inspired melodies.
The deep-pine vocals are genuine Americana. A jug at their feet, a bloodhound’s under the whicker, lanterns lit, the feeling is back porch midnight cool. “Shakin’ Down the Acorns,” with Ben’s mandolin, Chris Coole’s banjo, Scotty Meter’s fiddle & Forrest Gibson’s guitar all mix briefly into classical mountain music.
Followed by “Pilgrim,” the tune unfolds like a crinkly scroll & could be equally interpreted by bands like the Oysterband & Spirit of the West. Dusty melodic, lots of spirit & masterful. The interaction between strings — plucked or sawed is magic. This melody was composed where musicians could jam freely — so many inspiring spaces.
Ben’s vocals stir bluegrass here. The late fiddler & riverboat captain John Hartford (“Gentle on My Mind”) would’ve enjoyed Ben Winship & his band of talented souls. “I’ll Live On,” — a vocal tone similar to Arlo Guthrie. Rayna Gellert with her fiddle graces the instrumental “Phoebe’s Rest.” Natalie Padilla adds 2nd fiddle & Ben provides a crisp tenor guitar, mandolin & acoustic guitar. Truly a graceful melody, composed by Ben for the documentary “Far Afield,” about Jackson Hole naturalist, Bert Raynes.
Today’s pop musicians seldom understand the value-added of a well-performed instrumental. The James Gang with Joe Walsh did on their Thirds LP. “Ashes the Rain & I,” proved country-rockers understood instrumentals.
“Cherry Tree,” came after Ben played briefly with legendary songwriter Guy Clark – who also made instruments of wood. The beauty of Ben’s mandolin, Chris Coole’s banjo & Scotty Meter’s fiddle is fluid. Aficionado’s miles from Idaho can actually hear the fun, respect & magic these accomplished players had playing these notes. Becoming one with the melody itself.
They say a dog is man’s best friend – a close second for the man (or woman) would certainly be music – or the very instrument they play it on.
Ben’s vocal & performance is ideally traditional throughout each song. Easily appreciated by Appalachia, or it’s Irish, Scottish & English cousins.
Ben would find kinship with fiery fiddler Linda McRae whose music is close to this. She’d be a formidable musician with his excellent accompanists. “Fit to Be Tied/Sail Away Ladies,” is marvelous. How Ben manages to weave dynamics of the old into a modern invigorating, refreshing tradition is to be admired.
“Lily Green/Grey Owl,” could’ve been an ideal cover for the late Pete Seeger. Old Pete probably didn’t know young guys like Ben wrote songs like this. It’s not porridge but real cream of wheat tunes. Simple, poignant & played with joyous abandon.
The bonus “Boys Them Buzzards Are Flying,” (Garry Harrison) features smokin’ fiddles. I’ll admit – it’s seldom I hear an entire LP with every track endearing as these. The 14-song 45-minute CD: Produced by Ben Winship. Available on his website, Amazon, Facebook & Bandcamp.