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Capturing Sparks – Benjamin Jayne’s “Broken”

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On Broken, the latest full-length from the Brattleboro-based, more or less solo artist Benjamin Jayne (nee Wright), on the very first track “A Million Miles,” the singer, quite clearly exploring a fresh new vocal range compared to when we last – and first – met with the release of Theater a couple years back, on the brink of a crucial juncture in the song’s structure, lets loose with the phrase “I’m just trying/to find my way.” As a statement of purpose we can’t help but relate, seeing as this next record from our first encounter with this project is a fair – if delightfully welcome – departure from what that previous outing would lead us to expect, an impression immediately underscored when, more inferred than clearly heard, the words ‘back home’ seem to hang off the back of that statement like little more than a settling of electronic mist and, it should be said, all the more powerful for it as such suggestions so often are. Somehow both breezy and startling, as dark as it is imperishably hopeful, one couldn’t ask for a more representative – nor more intriguing – opening salvo. Fortunately, though not unexpected, each successive cut carries that touch forward with a sure hand and an even surer voice.

Whether it’s “Shoot Through the Wire” with its shivering effects underscoring what seems one of those sudden pulls of memory that can stop you cold on a cold and windy morning (which isn’t to mention that time-stopping chorus of children’s voices at the end, muffled in that stark and lingering-in-a-dream way), the sharp and eager pop lope of “Somewhere Far Away,” this album’s surest and most satisfying head-nodder, “Love” with its spry 5/4 rhythms and the exaltedness inherent in that sudden falsetto (directly following, by the way, the ultimate testimonial line “for you I would die“) that only further accentuates this artist’s devotion to craft, the starkly building and brilliant insistence of the title cut or the lullaby-like love song “Good Night, Good Bye” that ends the album on a note of deeply human hope and ambivalence (what else sustains us, after all?), the fact is each track on Broken resonates with its mates as if by some intuitive wire wound invisibly through the length of its temporal body and that, truly, is one of the most ‘what more can you ask for?’ qualities of any record.

Furthermore, what’s at least as striking as that as one moves from the A-to-Z of this release is its subtly feverish detail – hear that guitar at the tail end of “Give Up, Don’t Give Up,” howling as if carried on a wind down some narrow wintered valley? Or the ambient carry-through of a child’s voice from “Shoot Through the Wire” to “Somewhere Far Away”‘s intro? How about that phased shudder that helps usher in “The Symbol,” arguably our most visceral outing here – for which we give dual credit to both Wright and his go-to producer Drew Skinner.

Now, the only question is, how many people will actually hear this gem of a record? One of the built-in joys of this gig – a privilege, in fact – is being privy to product that most won’t ever hear of let alone hear, which is cool and all and I’m grateful (it is, in a sense, one of the ways I get ‘paid’) but as a de facto cheerleader for these so-called outsider records on tiny and/or out-of-the-way labels (Broken comes to us via the WhatAboutMusic label) facing what I realize is a sea of distracted or, worse, incurious ears, the task can be dispiriting, not so much due to the spill of wasted ink as for the artist whose work deserves to be heard. The way that above-mentioned central refrain in this album’s introductory track echoes, in this listener’s mind anyway, the work of Joseph Arthur on the transcendent Come To Where I’m From album is, I should think, reason enough to spark your curiosity and, really, capturing such sparks is, in our view here at SEM, kind of the point at the heart of our passion and we expect it’s the same for our music-obsessed readers. To that end, here’s a link, and here’s a link, and here’s another one. Capture, get the shivers, and enjoy.