Were the Partridge Family to suddenly plunge into a depressoid bender, they'd be Ben Cooley Hall. This guy used to head up the Mary Reillys but veered off to cut his own gig, and Owning Up to a Life is a simultaneously startling and humorous disc of Our Town paradoxes and frustrations delivered in a pop vein vaguely Jules Shear-ish (as though Shear, too, were tired of living), balancing between folk, pop, and MOR…but with a very pronounced difference, as though Sartre were Dr. Phil harboring a secret folk Goth fetish.
Hall presents his songs with a combination of the serious and ironic yielding a rare satiric vein on multiple levels. You have to listen closely to what he's doing because every atom of each song is inextricably woven into the effect of the whole. Were this CD not so stealthily subversive, dwelling in a chameleonic skin of seeming normalcy, it'd be 'weird folk', but even that would be too easy a space for a musician who seems to value multiply operating alienations.
Save for a few axes, mainly horns (bagpipes, trumpet, etc.), Hall plays and sings everything. The pace is slow, his voice laconic and occasionally faltering, the instruments rustic and lazy, but, combined with the lyrics, they suddenly fall into grinning, nail-biting, sweating, paranoid life, albeit one of wondering lassitude. Despite the release's frequently quiet hilarity, there's really a very existential honesty at work here, and I doubt anyone is going to be able to find similar examples very easily at all. Give Owning Up to a Life the undivided attention it deserves, and you'll find an artwork of highly unusual and self-effacing but invasive merits. Don't worry about getting bogged in the worrisome subject matter, though, as the wry halo hanging over it all makes for idiosyncratic humor you just can't help chuckling over.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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