Albums made up of purely instrumental music have a tougher job on their hands than those who add lyrical content, simply because lyrics are, without sounding rude, a distraction. Most people like a song or love an album because of the connection that they have with its words, the message, the literary landscape. An instrumental album has to make that connection using the music and the music only, which is why it should only be attempted by someone who knows how to make music talk. Quite literally talk!
Sugar Loaf Walker can and does do just that, he makes music talk. But music talks in much less direct ways than words and phrases do. It talks more through moods and musical nuances, inducing emotive responses, via heartfelt and soul-warming resonance rather than through the blunt and unswerving suggestion that are the limitation of words. (And I’m saying that as a writer.)
But the dexterity of the playing and deftness of the compositions found here means that Benign Penny (great pun by the way) not only has a lot to say but is also a joy to listen to. Generically, it is also a fantastic blend, sometimes moving into more recognised forms but more often happier to be found wandering through the sonic backroads where genres overlap, where sounds and styles mix and match, never trying to hard to create anything new but never quite conforming either. Sugar Loaf Walker seems at home rifling through and riffing off musical references and drawing on inspirations where ever he finds them, forging a sound from blues, rock, soul and much more, to create a sort of fresh but familiar feeling which is the hallmark of most “classic albums”. Though, I wouldn’t be so bold as to suggest that this could be tagged as a classic album…not yet at least.
We find bluesy serenades in the form of Hitchhiking, upbeat and groovesome stomps with Miser Rosy, a song whose leadlines are so carefully crafted and conversational that you can almost hear them speak, and a suitably cosmic sounding space-lane, driving song in Returning to Magrathea…and who doesn’t like a good Douglas Adams reference? The space theme also continues into the final song, The Flying Disc, a tip of the hat to the Roswell Incident which has a sort of liquid and understated Tex- (New)Mex, border music feel to it.
Instrumental albums have to work hard to keep up with their more obvious lyrically minded counterparts but Benign Penny matches the scope and sonic soundscape of anything you will find being released at the moment. Sometimes it pays to ignore the fads and fashion of the times and just make the best and most expressive music that you can and this album is the perfect example of someone doing just that.