Folk and jazz singer-songwriter Ben Somers is no stranger to the musician’s life. He’s been playing saxophone and double bass since he was 16, and has toured with artists including Seal, Taylor Swift and Dr John. Later this week he’ll release his debut solo album, Poor Stuart, and last night fans got their first taste of it with a show at London’s intimate Green Note venue.
Flanked by his band – violinist Lena, guitarist Dorian and mandolin player Evan – Somers opened his two-part set with a Stanley Brothers tune, Down The Line. It’s a bright, fast-paced number with great three-part harmonies, as well as a starring role for Lena’s fiddle playing. They then moved into the album’s title track, a slower, languid tune with a timeless feel – it almost felt like it could have been handed down through history.
Throughout the performance I was frequently wowed by all four band members’ musicianship. On songs such as the light, warm Life On The Road, the lively Back In The Saddle and , their fingers could frequently be seen flying up and down the necks of instruments as they played at breakneck speed and switched up tempos throughout. I was particularly impressed with Lena, who performed two of her original songs as part of the set – the jaunty Hust Rusk and Happy Penguin, a cheerful upbeat number which got a couple of audience members dancing in their seats.
The band members also had great chemistry together on stage, making jokes and bouncing off each other. I particularly liked that each of them got their moment to shine. As well as Lena’s two songs, Evan showed off his rich vocal on the driving Raleigh & Spencer, whilst Dorian provided solid guitar playing throughout. Ben also brought his father Steve – a musician in his own right – on stage for two songs, including Blue Shadows On The Trail, which had a bluesy vibe and a capella finish.
One of the standout songs for me came early in the performance with Sideman. The song, about Ben’s experience touring alongside a band who weren’t his biggest fans, is packed with great little details and wonderful turns of phrases. I also really enjoyed Blake’s Reel with its dramatic, almost tango-like opening, the soaring blend of Trouble In Mind and Fassikin, and the jazzy, freewheeling Good Boy (which finished with a rendition of How Much Is That Doggy In The Window, complete with lines in German and French!).
After the sparse yet lush Melody For Jules, Ben brought his dad back on stage to perform the Western swing song Take Me Back To Tulsa. All five artists sang together, with their voices blending beautifully, and there was even a yodel-off between Ben and Steve at the end! For the final song, they performed Blues On My Mind, which for me summed up their sound with its rapid playing and contrast of uptempo melody and downbeat lyrics.
Overall the evening felt like a celebration of traditional music and I was completely transported. With fantastic musicianship and harmonies, Ben and his band showcased styles including bluegrass, traditional country and folk, with plenty of jazzy flourishes to put an original spin on their sound. Whilst a few of the songs did run into each other a little on occasion, it was definitely something different and should win over traditional and new folk fans alike.
Set list: 1. Down The Line 2. Poor Stuart 3. Life On The Road 4. Back In The Saddle 5. Hust Rusk 6. Sideman 7. Blake’s Reel 8. Raleigh & Spencer 9. Blue Shadows On The Trail 10. Rocky Island 11. I’ve Lived A Lot In My Time/Pretty Little Girl 12. Trouble In Mind/Fassikin 13. Jump The Mississippi/Farewell To Trianon 14. Good Boy/How Much Is That Doggy In The Window 15. A Bored Farewell 16. Happy Penguin 17. Randall Collins 18. Melody For Jules 19. Take Me Back To Tulsa 20. Blues On My Mind Performance date: 4th October 2018