Clear To Ground – Ben McNeil (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

The art of painting makes for a great allusion when it comes to describing music. Some pieces are built of riots of colour, paint liberally applied and full of texture others are fashioned from delicate washes used in harmony with the emptiness of the blank canvas to merely outline the subject. In such an analogy, Ben McNeil’s music would lies somewhere between, using confident, colourful brushstrokes but laying them sparing and precisely.

Clear To Ground is his latest release and across these five songs he demonstrates what such an expert grasp he has to the aforementioned approach. There are moments where his singer-songwriter sonics burst out into more exuberant pop explosions, Every Breath being the perfect example of a song which feels both deftly cut but with an anthemic feel, reminiscent of the likes of Crowded House, and at the other extreme, such as with open salvo Here I Am, displaying a more intimate, reflective and understated alt-country charm.

Blind Tomorrow has a more indie-folk vibe, both steeped in traditional troubadour sounds and bristling with modern energy, lush and lingering, forward-thinking though wonderfully familiar and Let It Break feels like the sort of song which could easily have been the centre piece to David Gray’s breakthrough album White Ladder. The e.p. rounds off with the sonically shifting, Dylan-esque joys of Wash Away The Thought.

Although perhaps sounding like the product of a rising Nashville folk outlaw, Ben recorded the record at his home in Ridgehaven, South Australia, pretty much fulfilling every role required and aided and abetted by Syd Green who provided additional instrumentation.

Honest, intimate and understated, Clear To Ground is the perfect snapshot of modern roots music. Although recorded half a world away from the heart of the alt-country homeland it remains the perfect summation of the genre today and perhaps even reminds us that the modern world is indeed a small place and that we, its people, have more which unites us than that which separate us.

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