One of the first things I noticed upon listening to the flowery music of Ben Seretan: how transformative his lyrics are. Ben is gifted with that rare talent that only a handful of artists possess; he is able to write delicate, psychedelic words that transform you from whatever place you are currently in, to a space of sunshine, wildflowers, and sweet tea. His music is timeless.
His latest album, Bowl of Plums, begins with the song “You Took My Blues Away.” It starts off epically with a soft, fluttery, guitar and the lyrics, “How’d my boots get so heavy? I prayed to anything out loud. But you came and took my blues away.”
Just when you think the song will go on in this enchantingly, groovy manner, he surprises us with an explosion of guitar and drums. The Energy level gets taken from super tranquil to out of this world!
Cut to the third song of the album, “Bowl of Plums” (the album’s namesake). Once again, I find my attention immediately directed towards the lyrics. “Flowers growing in a coffee can, our lives are wonderful and sad sometimes, I’m so happy I could cry, a bowl of plums on the table.”
Ben touches upon the subtleties of life— the everyday things we see, but perhaps do not think upon. He takes these commonalities and makes them special. In doing so, he hits the nail on the head where shared feelings are concerned. “I’d like someone’s arm around me now. Tell me that I’m pretty, that my mouth is soft. Flowers growing in the floorboards of your house. Tell me that I’m worthy, that my heart is good.”
Have we all not, at one point or another, felt this way? Besides the lyrics, this song is quite agreeable to the ears. Soft and serene, one almost feels as though they are floating upon a crystal clear lake in the mountains.
Fun fact about this release, each of the songs on Bowl of Plums were recorded in different states. I found that fascinating. While all his songs hold a peaceful energy, I believe we can hear the difference in each song according to where they were recorded. The areas of recording were Massachusetts, an armory in upstate New York, Portland, Oregon, Philadelphia, and two places in Brooklyn. While I don’t know which song belongs to which place, it is fun to guess and try to imagine what the recording process might have been like.
To me, “Getting Out” is the most “folk-influenced” song on the album. It provides lyrics that truly strike home for anyone who has ever felt restless or stuck in their lives; a reminder that we are not alone in our thoughts. “Jelly stains on your lips and teeth, I am getting out, I’m getting out. Butterflies alight on my arms. Fireflies circle the graveyard.”
The lyrics are heavy while the tune is light and so raw, together they conjure up images of a stale home life or a situation turned sour.
Ben has an era-specific voice. One can easily imagine him being perfectly at home in a time like the 60’s and 70’s. His voice is ever so willowy, as is exemplified in the song, “Kudzu.” For those who don’t know, Kudzu is a type of eastern Asian, growing plant that is used as a fodder crop (for animal feed). I found this an interesting tidbit and wondered if it held any symbolism?
The instrumental portion of this song is soft, and Ben’s voice truly bursts through with intimate lyrics of “All for that we ran our paths. Woke up happier than I’ve been. Hold me close- no closer than that. Trees on the hill grew silently.”
Of course, I loved his reference to the muted aspects of life, “Broken jelly jars and scars. I flipped through your coffee table books. Hold me close- no closer than that. Birds in the dirt chirped noiselessly.”
Ben is not only a musician, he is a story teller, and a great one at that. His music is nothing if not poetic and speaks to the hopeless romantic in us all. Coupled with lovely instrumentals, they have the ability to carry us out of this reality, into a place of intimacy within ourselves.
Ben Seretan’s Bowl of Plums is out June 24th. Pre-order here.