Review: Ben Caplan, “Recollection”

Ben Caplan - Recollection

We all have memories of past experiences locked away, ready to be recalled at a moments’ notice – whether good or bad, and recalled intentionally or not – such is the beauty of our individual recollection.  For myself, just past experiences from live music events alone can prompt many wonderful memories.  One such moment was during a concert in London, ON back in 2017, where we happened to catch bassist Anna Ruddick – on the very evening she received word of winning her first JUNO Award just moments before taking the stage.  Such a fond recollection, yet significant too, as Anna was part of Halifax, NS singer-songwriter Ben Caplan’s band on that given night – an artist, coincidentally, who just released his fourth studio album earlier this month, titled “Recollection.”

Known for his energetic live performances and ‘road warrior’ touring schedule (which naturally eased during the pandemic, but is back in full swing right now with a European tour), Ben is distinctly rugged, raspy, and roaring with charisma.  He is both the gnarl of the hurricane and the eye of the storm, with an uncanny ability to channel both wild abandon and quiet introspection into his music.  Having devoted so much time to his adventures out on the road, along with his more recent foray into the theatrical production for “Old Stock,” it is understandable why new studio albums do not come along too often. 

With some downtime and isolation afforded to him, thanks to the unexpected global pandemic, Ben took the opportunity to return to the studio with a unique idea in mind.  “For years, I ‘ve had friends and fans express their desire to have recordings of my songs being performed solo,” he recalls. “This great pause was the time to finally take on that project, [so] I called up winner-of-many-awards producer Daniel Ledwell (Rachel Beck, Good Lovelies), and proposed that we co-produce a stripped back solo album at his home studio.”  Making the decision to retrace his own steps, “Recollection” finds Caplan offering reimagined versions of nine of his most enduring songs from the last decade.  “With the benefit of Dan’s feedback, I began taking the old songs apart and putting them back together again,” Ben shares. “I wanted to find a bit of new life in the songs. I thought the album would be just voice, piano, and guitar, but through the process of experimentation and exploration, we discovered that we couldn’t live without a little bit of auxiliary sound here and there.”

Ben Caplan

Recorded at Ledwell’s Echo Lake Studio, “Recollection” is indeed stripped back and minimalist.  Opening with the reimagined version of “Night Like Tonight,” taken from his 2015 “Birds With Broken Wings” album, the subdued keys not only replace the upright bass and strings from the original, but create a slower, somber tone that allow Ben’s vocals to have much more prominence.  Leading immediately into “Beautiful,” one of several selections from his 2011 “In The Time Of Great Remembering” debut album, we once again witness the softer approach.  The light, breezy tempo remains, but acoustic guitar strums replace the upbeat drum taps and cymbals to make this a much more intimate affair.

The inclusion of “Belly Of The Worm” is a much welcomed addition, and while one of Ben’s slower pieces, this reimagined offering does not stray too far from its original guise – it took a quick return to the 2015 version for me to determine that the choices of instrumentation are pretty much the sole differences here.  “Lullaby,” the only representative from his 2018 “Old Stock” album, is a true standout from this collection, with comparisons easily made to Leonard Cohen in Caplan’s delivery.  And pay extra attention to “Drift Apart,” where Ledwell’s vision and influences shine through, adding some sublime studio touches that include haunting backing vocals from Jenn Grant.

So I drop to my knees and give thanks to the Lord / For the rising tuition I can barely afford / I’m so happy to live in the land of the free / Free to pay high tuition so I can succeed.”  Rounding out this collection is “Student Song,” a previously unreleased track that is quite at home here among these old favorites.  “I was inspired by the beautifully sparse arrangements on Johnny Cash’s American recordings produced by Rick Rubin,” Ben shares. “In the tradition of old country folk, this is a song that grapples with social problems and the struggles of life without getting too ornate or fancy.  I wrote Student Song almost 15 years ago but it hadn’t found a home on an album, until now.”

For those unfamiliar with Ben’s music, “Recollection” offers a great introduction for becoming acquainted with many of his most requested live favorites.  I also strongly encourage you to explore his limited back catalog, and learn of both these subtle and not-so-subtle interpretations for yourselves.  “This is a COVID-19 album. I wanted to use this global shutdown as an opportunity to work on a new recording project. But, with the pandemic on, I had no desire to produce an album of new songs with full arrangements and a whole band,” Ben adds.  “New songs are sacred to me. They are precious and rare, and I didn’t want to push them into the world with all of these industry challenges to work around.  So, instead of looking forward, I looked backward.”  As stated earlier, Ben is currently on a full-scale European tour – if he’s performing at a venue near you, I highly recommend catching his live show – and be prepared for the unexpected.

Photo Credit: Jamie Kronick

The British guy that crossed the ocean and crash landed in central Pennsylvania (to quote Greg Keelor, “And I wonder what am I doing here?”). As the youngest of four siblings, exposure to music from a very early age nurtured my passion and appreciation for many musical genres. Continuing to discover some amazingly diverse and talented musicians based in Canada, I gravitate to live music experiences and remain devoted to spreading the word about such a vibrant music scene.

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