By Roger Sharman
The debut album from Ben Jarrell, Troubled Times has been creating a lot of noise in Outlaw Country circles, and for very good reason since its release on March 29thon Country Roots Records. The Nashville-based, Alabama native has hit the ball straight out the park with this record.
Ben assembled quite a band for this, Mike Daley on Pedal Steel, Steve Daley on Lead Guitar, Kevin Black, on Bass (from Margo Price’s and previously Sturgill Simpson’s band) & Taylor Powell on Drums (Nikki Lane).
This is so much more than just an Outlaw country album, there’s something for everyone on it, blues, rock, honky tonk, ballads that will make a grown man cry, delivered with the aplomb of established stars such Cody Jinks or Whitey Morgan. It is like this young man has been performing all his life, he’s a natural.
From the opening bars of ‘Troubled Times in a Tribal Town’ Ben’s velvet tones are apparent. The depth to his voice is really remarkable.
‘Gearjammer Blues’, a trucker song, would have Waylon sit up in his grave and take notice. The bass line could be from a Waylon song, Ben’s baritone is in full flow, as velvety as Kendell Marvel or Dillon Carmichael’s, which gives strong indication of this guy’s vocal ability.
‘Marissa’ is a beautiful ballad, very much in the mould of Cody Jinks. The pure emotion seeping from his vocals are quite haunting. The range he has in his voice is quite astounding.
The acoustic ‘My Old Friend’ is an absolute gem of a track. An instant favourite of mine, which further highlights the maturity in Ben’s writing. I don’t like mentioning beauty in my reviews too often as it can become cliched, but there is no better word for this song.
‘Big Iron Train’ is a honky-tonker with a rather exceptional guitar solo in it, that follows the fast, slow fast format. The air-guitarists among us will be outdoing any Bohemian Rhapsody solos no trouble at all.
The funky ‘Black Helicopter’ further demonstrates Black’s extreme talent on the bass, it reminiscent of Sturgill’s ‘Some Days’ in places, which is quite a compliment. This will have the dancefloors of Nashville heaving no doubt.
‘The Flyer’ is a track that has a slow intro with some gorgeous, subtle backing vocals, That speeds up before slowing down again for some narration from Jarrell, before speeding up again for the finale, I dare you to try and sit still whilst listening to this or for that matter pretty much all of this album.
The next offering, ‘Highway Whine’ is another upbeat foot tapping sing-a-long, feel good Country Song, if I had to say I had a least favourite song on the album it would be this one, but it’s still a very good track, such is the quality of this record, the pedal steel in this is sublime.
Jarrell goes back into narrative mode for ‘Daddy’s Prison Radio’. This autobiographical song features more sumptuous female backing vocals, that compliment Jarrell’s vocals & the Pedal Steel perfectly.
The album closes out with a full-on riot of a track, ‘Colorado Bound’, the drumming sounds like a runaway train, while the guitars go full on rockabilly, we got police sirens and we have Jarrell’s public service announcement like tribute to the musicians and staff that helped to put this wonderful record together. I certainly haven’t heard that done before and it works like a treat.
I’m going to say (and from having spoken to folk’s who’s musical knowledge I respect very highly) this is one of the best record’s you’ll hear all year, it’s certainly the best I’ve heard so far this year. It needs to be purchased in any or every format, it’s an instant classic, and Mr Jarrell deserves to be a superstar. If the follow up (yes, I’m already looking forward to it) is half as good as this he will be a star!