Good With Words : A Tribute To Benjamin Durdle

Good With Words : A Tribute To Benjamin Durdle

Hardly a familiar name to many people, singer/songwriter Benjamin Durdle (whose main profession is that of architect) has placed his songbook into the care of his sometime collaborator (as one half of Avenging Unicorns), theatrical producer and music critic Evan Sawdey. Sawdey has persuaded a large number of other bands and musicians to record their own interpretations of Durdle’s songs, and the resultant imaginative and idiosyncratic song collection sees Durdle’s original guitar arrangements receiving some quite thorough re-assessments and treatments from a range of bands and other producers and musicians.

The range of styles and interpretations is as varied as I think I’ve heard on any compilation I’ve heard recently, with none of the songs really bearing much of a resemblance to each other. Add to this the fact that the entire album is available as a free download and feel obliged to applaud the efforts of Evan Sawdey in compiling this ten track monument to a notable, if somewhat hidden, talent.

The proceedings are opened by The Hoot Hoots, whose “Beyond The Pale” begins in a blizzard of white noise then bursts into a enthusiastic garage punk number reminiscent of the Lemonheads, and including a horn section. Good start, and in contrast the next track, Motorcycles Are Everywhere’s “My Lovely Ghosts”, is a moody slice of electro-noir that recalls a less strident Depeche Mode. Lisa Choi portrays “This Is What It Means” as a bittersweet guitar ballad, perhaps close in spirit to Durdle’s original, and gently reminiscent of Suzanne Vega. Perhaps deliberately, the following track (David Abravanel’s “Fists”) takes us into the abstract territories inhabited by The Residents and electronic japesters such as Bentley Rhythm Ace and Lemon Jelly, and is a tonal collage rather than an actual song.

Dadaist tone poetry aside, Cami + Dave perform the album’s title track as an affecting six string two-hander that might resemble Tori Amos deprived of her keyboard, were anyone ever to record that. On the other hand, Le Guillotine are full-blown Glam rockers and “(Sugar) Cane And Abel” is Suede walking home at 6am, after a party, in 1994. The Marches provide a melodramatic interpretation of “Big City” that possesses all the sonorous grandeur of a vintage New Order album cut. I Saved Holland’s “Lovely Ghosts” is part blues, part grunge much in the manner of Mudhoney, but the next track is, for me, the album highlight. Guitarists Will Stratton, Jackson Emmer and Tavo Carbone give “Don’t Paint Me Up” a classical electro-acoustic interpretation, adding the prog rock dimensions of Yes and King Crimson to Benjamin Durdle’s own solo guitar and voice.

It’s only fitting that the last word should, in fact, go to Durdle himself and “Garden Apartment” reveals an edgily confident performer with a deceptively throwaway delivery to both his voice and guitar, adding a gritty emphasis to his tale of love and darkness that might make him an American Pete Doherty in other circumstances. But it’s apparent that Benjamin Durdle prefers to remain in the background of his own writing, at least for now. By anyone’s standards, Good With Words is a showcase for some important emerging talents, and a significant achievement that deserves far more attention than it’s likely to receive. And it’s free.