It’s been a while. The last time the splendidly monikered Benjamin Francis Leftwich darkened my door was way back in the Summer of 2011 when I saw him tread the boards in support of his debut release Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm, a perfectly acceptable slice of nu-folk although I did fancy he was hanging onto the shirt-tails of some of his contemporaries. But it was fine, he was fine, we were all fine. Then nothing. Not a whisper from the lad until June this year when After The Rain unexpectedly dropped into my inbox. So what’s the deal? What’s been going on?
Truth is, BFL has had a rough time of it, losing his father and like many of us, trying to come to terms with the emptiness and desolation that comes with a sudden bereavement. For a time he opted to ditch his music, concentrating instead on the precarious job of just living, existing, grieving. After The Rain is the musical soundtrack to this journey, 13 tracks which offer up a smorgasbord of lyrical morsels designed to be used as a catharsis for all of us, or maybe just a way for BFL to make it through another day. Either way, don’t be tricked into thinking this is a desolate and morbid listen; far from it. This is the sound of a man coming out the other side with a tale to tale and a bag full of positivity to share. There is a mountain of self-reflection on display “tell me why you’re kicking every rose that you come across,” he argues on ‘Kicking Roses’ as if to poke fun at his misplaced anger and there are several tracks here which throw into sharp focus his recent mental state.
“One step forwards and two steps back/That blue sky just fades to black,” doesn’t require an astrophysicist to decipher the meaning in ‘Immortal‘. We have all felt pain like it at some stage. My previous concerns about his chosen musical direction are largely unfounded. Sure, he hasn’t completely abandoned his former persona and the hushed, almost intimate, vocal delivery is still in evidence and tracks such as album opener ‘Tilikum‘ benefit from a lack of clutter. However, during the intervening years BFL appears to have adopted Steve Mason as his mentor and coupled with the production of award-winning Charlie Andrew there is now far more electronic instrumentation which lifts the life-affirming ‘Some Other Arms’ and the optimistic ‘Summer’ to entirely new levels. The former, in particular, is reminiscent of so much of the recent output from Mason.
As Elbow know only too well, every melancholic album requires a focal point, an axis from which the centrifugal force of the remaining tracks can revolve. To this end, Benjamin Francis Leftwich has created ‘Groves‘ a track so honest, so soul-baring that if it doesn’t make you weep then you’ve either never lost a loved one or you’re made of concrete. It’s a fitting tribute to his late father and builds to a blissed-out sense of ultimate euphoria and peace. A lot has happened in the preceding five years; don’t leave it so long next time, please.
‘After The Rain’ is out now on Dirty Hit records