How does a quintessentially British singer-songwriter find himself in Minnesota recording his first full-length album with the former sidemen of Prince and Bob Dylan? YouTube, of course. The platform that launched so many pop idols was where Ben Brookes posted his random selection of acoustic covers, ranging from Pink Floyd to Crowded House to Del Amitri. The latter was the one that eventually led to the invitation to travel from his home in Portsmouth, on the south coast of England, to Minnesota to record The Motor Car and the Weather Balloon.
Produced by Badfinger bassist, Mark Healey, The Motor Car and the Weather Baloon keeps an even canter, steadied by Michael Bland’s nuanced, tasteful drumming. Layered with piano and organ by Gregg Inhofer and additional guitar by Badfinger’s Joey Molland (whose solo on the power pop jangler, Stories in the Rain instantly reminded me of his former boss, George Harrison). Soaring above it all is Brookes’ voice. At times, a touch of prime Elton John with one atom of (in the most complimentary way) Phil Collins’ hard-belting push mingled with the fused base of Glen Hansard and Mick Hucknall. Within the acceptable range of nasal and with a cigarette-edged throaty quality, Brookes’ voice is natural and hard-working.
Brookes names his greatest influences as Cash, Bowie, Bolan and the Beatles with the strongest coming from Manchester’s Gallagher brothers. Interestingly, none dominate and without knowing, you’d likely never guess any apart from the Fab Four. Although the Beatles’ influence is woven in the DNA of every living British musician in some way. It’s most prevalent in the touches of Sgt. Pepper production that bubble up on The Motor Car and the Weather Balloon. The album is full of pop hooks and despite generally lacking a thick skin of vocal harmonies is stunningly melodic at times. Few songs fail to shine as bright as Stories in the Rain or Integration (Not Segregation) but if this debut long player is an indication of things to come from Ben Brookes, he is an artist to follow.
Follow Ben Brookes on his website and social media through the links below.