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Ben Osborn - Letters from the Border

  by Lisa Torem

published: 26 / 3 / 2019



Ben Osborn - Letters from the Border
Label: Nonostar Records
Format: CD

intro

Engaging and convincingly mature debut from composer, poet and multi-instrumentalist Ben Osborn


It’s no surprise that Ben Osborn’s music has garnered recognition such as the Cameron Mackintosh Award and the Manchester Theatre Award or that the the well-rounded composer/poet teaches at the Berlin Open Music Lab, “a free school for refugee musicians.” His tender, evocative, slyly cutting music was designed to be shared and admired with the audience-at-large. An additional surprise is that ‘Letters from the Border’ (Nonostar Records) is, remarkably, a debut. Work with such mature overtones would predictably come at a later stage of a musician’s career...That said, this early gem deserves every honour. The CD begins with ‘Chedvah,’ which is subtly orchestrated and sacredly saturated with lingering phrases. The title refers to “an obscure Hebrew word for joy.” In ‘Letters from the Border,’ light Travis picking evokes an earlier era, but the song invites a latter era, as well, with vocal shades of Sufjan Stevens, Iron and Wine and Donovan Leitch. Tender harmonies ensue. A moving back story is touched upon: “We were blown over the border into the unknown…” and with “All our love is a pattern of ashes.” Here, Osborn reacts to his sad ancestry, an Eastern-European, Jewish great-grandfather who reaches out to relatives and receives no reply, as they were already killed. In ‘Fast Awake’ muted strings and an airy Chopin-esque piano solicit a deep awareness of Osborn’s songwriting sensitivity. He gets right to the point, however, lyrically: “A storm woke me up and kicked out my window.” In the refrain, the experience proves much more personal: “Everything’s changing, so why can’t you change?” In regards to ‘Tangles’: All this white noise tears the wind from the tress,” Ben observes. The deliberate tempo slows down and shutters out any traces of our frenetic world. In this song, and throughout, Ben allows images, and occasionally the twittering of actual birds, to colour his sonic palette, over such transparent epiphanies as “I spun my sorrow.” In ‘A Bridge of Starlings’ the opening chords breathe in and out, every-so-slightly blessed with a primitive eat and a thrashing of hypnotic waves. Out of this, intrudes a soulful bassline. Astounding references continue: “I’ll find a place where the wind on my face feels like water,” he declares. As simmering melodies move along, a random non-chordal tone intercepts. It is that slight jarring, however, that weirdly grounds us in that moment and makes us desire more. Other Osborn lyrics ground us in an entirely different way: “I am an architect. I will build a bridge for you” contrasts with the cocky “I took a train downtown/I thought I was a king.” The sobering ‘A Guide to Gothenburg for the Sleepless’ includes a fragile, female solo and perhaps this songwriter’s purest regret: “I lost my faith in songs unsung.” Others, such as ‘The Only Thing,’ expel beguiling compositional transitions. The closer, ‘Psalm 22,’ swells with halting temerity. Thus ‘Letters from the Border’ has the makings of a classic. Ben Osborn’s imagination, coupled with a solid grasp of what came before him, spells pure artistry.



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