Think outside the Boom box: Benjamin Booker channels early rock influences on debut

Music columnist Patrick McKenna discusses the young rocker’s debut

Benjamin Booker is launching a new landscape for modern rock music.

The only issue with this “new” and refreshing sound is it’s not new at all. It’s the old sound he’s worshipped his whole life: the James Brown funk lines, the Chuck Berry guitar hooks, the raspy growl of Tom Waits, the punk-fueled aggression of the Love Club. However, Booker establishes himself as a truly original act with the construction of all these influences, melted down and brandished into his own garage-rock wonder.

With his self-titled debut album, Booker, 25, presents the boogie-woogie backdrop of ‘50s rockabilly against a raucously destructive garage rock sound perfected by the likes of Georgia flower punks Black Lips and our generation’s guitar titan Jack White (who Booker opened for on White’s Lazaretto tour this summer before even publicly releasing any material).

With a voice that invokes a 60-something blues player with years of chain-smoking under his belt, Booker is based in New Orleans after relocating from Florida, is something new and fresh. He’s been officially active in the music industry for two years, yet his self-titled debut album, released in late August, is something of a whirlwind blast from the past, being hailed by both critics and musicians alike.

Recorded by only Booker and his fantastic drummer Max Norton, the album ranges in tempo, mood and melody, yet always returns to some brand of old-school rock with a new-school flair. The album swerves through various elements to beautiful rock, offering fierce and wild jams right after a slow ballad that seeps with dangerously unstable emotion. Even the tiny amount of experience he has doesn’t stand in the way of his monstrous skill level.

The album begins fittingly with a sharp and catchy Chuck Berry-like riff, as if to proclaim the noticeable influences that pop up throughout the record. The opening track, “Violent Shiver” has a danceable vibe that paints a picture of moshers mingling with ‘50s poodle skirt-wearing teenyboppers. It’s a shaky, rattling banger that sets the tone for an album that oozes with fast guitar and faster transitions.

From there, Booker embellishes in distorted, yet catchy tracks, with “Always Waiting” opening with a demolition of messy guitar blob, only to segue into a boogie fest fit for any Little Richard or Black Flag lover.

“Have You Seen My Son?” stands as the most powerful and spontaneous track on the album, with a breakdown in the middle of the song that is to die for. With a churning build-up drum part that leads back into all the bombastic garage-rock glory, Booker sings while channeling a pleading mother scared of a world that will terrorize her child. It feels fitting that the best song has a nostalgia of the days where rock and roll was feared nearly as much as Communism.

What makes this album stand out to me is the way its rages with rock fury, making it the ideal modern rock for any Zeppelin or Replacements lover. Yet it still has the fantastic ‘50s boogie that has an overpowering ability that screams, “Get the fuck up and dance, baby!” as if Jackie Wilson himself has resurrected to get down with you. With his debut, Booker has asserted himself as an artist that can hang with the big boys, while maybe teaching them a thing or two along the way.

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