After one solo album in 1983, Ben Watt joined Tracey Thorn to go on a successful career with her under the name Everything But The Girl. After their split, he started to create some of the most fantastic deep house cuts as a DJ and producer with his Lazy Dog series, both a club night in London and a compilation output, remixing tracks for Sade, Me’Shell Ndégeocello, Sunshine Anderson, Maxwell, and Zero 7. He later formed the house label Buzzin’ Fly Records and in 2014, over 30 years after his solo debut, he returned to his jazz and folk-inspired sound with “Hendra”, followed up two years later with “Fever Dream”.
He also wrote two memoirs, one of which is dealing with his rare auto-immune disease which is probably part of the fact why “Storm Damage”, his fourth solo record in almost 40 years, is so sinister and somber, but in a beautiful way. But then maybe not. “My closest half-brother died unexpectedly in 2016, only four years after my half-sister. I got stuck for a year, angry inside and angry at the political world casually detonating around me. I felt half powerless, half driven. When the songs finally came, some were dark, yes, but there is always room for light. Always. I just tried to put that across.”
As for the overall sound of his new album, it sometimes actually reminds me of David Bowie’s last album “Black Star” on tunes like “Balanced On A Wire” or “Figures In A Landscape”. Other times I’m thrown back to the 80s synth wave period with pieces like “Summer Ghosts”. And there is this optimism shining through: “One more day you live through, take a stand, one more day you live for, clap your hands”, he sings on “Figures In A Landscape”. He calls his style “future retro trio”, with keys, bass, and drum pads, with guitar parts and synth layers added to further enhance the brooding mood, like on “Knife In The Drawer”. There is a beautiful folk backdrop on “Irene”, where Ben’s voice is upfront and so profound, telling his story so sharply defined with a heartwarming musical backing that it clearly has become my favorite of the record. It’s a wonderful track. “Who told you love was absolute?”, he asks right away on “Sunlight Follows The Night”, another melancholy track, with enough hope in it that you won’t despair.
For most of the album’s length, it feels like a warm hug from a lifelong friend, with “Hand” and “Festival Songs” adding to the ease and comfort. “Let go for a while”, he sings on the album’s final track, and I’m happy to follow suit.
European tour dates include: 3/14 London – Queen Elizabeth Hall 3/21 Amsterdam – Paradiso Noord 3/22 Brussels – Botanique Rotonde 3/23 Paris – La Boule Noire