‘Birds with Broken Wings’ is the second album release from Canadian songster and beard wielder, Ben Caplan. It has been four years since his first release, ‘In the Time of the Great Remembering’, the majority of that time apparently being spent touring, writing fund raising to produce his new record and generally putting the hours in at the musical coal face. Caplan, whose hybrid-style of folk, gypsy-blues and cabaret is likely to repel and entice the general populous in equal measure, is one of those musicians who seems to harbour no interest in commercial success – at least not at the expense of his natural creativity.
His creations are the noises of whiskey-in-a-dirty-glass blurred views of Montmartre and the carnival days of old. The story telling is steeped in vivid imagery raised from the biblical and mythological (if you care to separate those two things), strutting its stuff by gaslight and bare knuckle boxing the modern music scene. “Under Control” delivers probably the most potent example of this with double bass, tipsy accordion and creeping violins leading towards a call and answer verse that is utter, distilled music hall fodder. Old fashioned? Perhaps, but the moments like this on the album are what draw you in if you let them. It’s a wealth of temptation born of Caplan’s undeniable dark side and served up on his barrel-aged voice which is just as comfortable drifting in low, silky tones as it is writhing in over-exerted wails.
Compared to his 2011 offering, this release is of a more consistent, high quality and displays some moves towards other styles. There are the knees-up, bellowing numbers (‘Birds with Broken Wings’) that make Ben Caplan so initially attention-grabbing along with the softer, guts-open ballads that bathe in the rich baritone (‘Belly of the Worm’) but now there are also dabblings with jazz in ‘Deliver Me’ and even soul in ’40 Days & 40 Nights’.
This tentative, but on the whole well-measured, venture into different genres gives a feeling that these songs are the product of a lifestyle built on traveling the land peddling your musical wares and indulging in a wealth of influences picked up on the way (the extensive list of musicians involved with these songs gives you an idea of just how many influences there might actually be).
With this album Caplan is continuing to show himself to be a refreshing artist and one that is doing his best to let people see that there are corners of the music world that are different to those more commonly scattered about the place; darker, more mischievous, altogether more interesting. It may not be something that you play over and over again on your way to work (although I have been doing that recently and it has done me no harm whatsoever) but it will be something that you can turn to when you need a sprinkle of musical spice added to your day. In an era of locked-in repetition, it is reassuring that things like ‘Birds with Broken Wings’ exist to allow us to briefly take a step outside.