Ben Caplan & The Casual Smokers - In The Time of Great Remembering (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
BEN Caplan is an eccentric whose music takes some getting used to. At times, it effortlessly charms, at others it comes across as the type you’d cross the road to avoid if it was being played by a busker.
In The Time of Great Remembering is therefore a fascinating oddity. At its best, it showcases a captivating vocal presence who is able to mix up elements of folk, blues and rock to admirable effect.
At other times, though, his eccentricities run away with him and the album feels a little self-indulgent and ‘out there’.
Things start off well with opening track Southbound, which has a nice folk vibe some wonderful instrumental layering (from guitar and banjo to clarinet and flute). There’s even an Eastern European flavour.
Beautiful, meanwhile, is a charmer of a track and shot through with pleasing melodies, while Caplan unites with Sasha Muise for a terrific duet on Sea Of Love.
Even Conduit, which takes his char-grilled vocals to new depths, inter-mingling them with a brooding beat and some playful flutes, succeeds – not least because it lends Caplan such a fierce identity of his own. The jazzy-outro, in which the horns and clarinets and saxophones are allowed to run wild, does mark the beginning of the album’s more patience-testing sensibilities though.
There’s a nice sense of melancholy on the banjo and violin-inflicted hand-on-heart moment Drift Apart (another highlight) and a bittersweet quality to Rest Your Head that combines some great acoustic guitar and violin.
But the bluesy, Deep South leaning Down To The River is another track that doesn’t quite work. It starts well (Caplan’s vocals even recall latter-day Tom Jones) but the track never ends when it should and tests the patience. Likewise, Bang To Break The Drum, in which Caplan gets a little carried away, or the leftfield Stranger, which brings things to a close on a slightly disorientating note (especially once Caplan starts la di di dee di dying).
If anything, he’s best when keeping things reigned in. And it’s during those moments that In The Time of Great Remembering is genuinely worth remembering.
Download picks: Beautiful, Sea of Love, Drift Apart, Rest Your Head, Leave Me Longing