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JOHNNY BENNETT Blurred Lines Blue Pie Records (2012)

Johnny Bennett

Just like his music, soulful rocker Johnny Bennett is a restless artist who apparently moved incessantly between the Midwest and the East and West coasts before finally settling inevitably in LA.

He then signed with the Australian record company and took off to the UK to record at former Tull drummer Barrymore Barlow's studio near Henley on Thames.

Best described as soulful indie rocker with a myriad of influences stretching from Beck to Ben Harper, Bennett is an A&R person's nightmare as he refuses to conform to labels. Too soulful for rock and too rocky for soul, there's enough variety here to be considered an indie artist, but his life experiences are routed in the rock generation. Work that one out!

'Blurred Lines' is something of a slow burner which is curious because it's a composite of his first two albums and after playing it twice you still wonder how to categorise his musical style. Perhaps he's best labelled under the catch all of indie, but that would be to overlook his vocal and his unique style.

The best tracks are in fact the laid back affairs like 'Sailboat' and 'Why Are You So Happy' on which he sounds a little like a younger Terry Reid, with soulful phrasing and extended legato, but as with the album as a whole, he doesn't quite have the killer songs to take his idiosyncratic phrasing into the mainstream

The closest he gets is the opening 'Sister Pharmaceutical' which features a familiar theme, some powerful tom toms, stop-time dynamics and finally resolves itself in a wash of jangling guitars. The following bossa beat opening of 'The Car Is Waiting' leads him to some adventurous vocal phrasing, while the riff driven 'I'll Never Be This High Again' is the closest he gets to an outright rocker.

Whichever way you look at it, this is an album with a difference that glues together a bunch of enjoyable but disparate songs that are at times fuelled by stream of consciousness vocals. 'Why Are You So Happy' is the exception to the rule being a soulful ballad with the focus on Johnny's aching vocal. He slips into Terry Reid mode again on 'Gone Missing' with more impressive phrasing on a song that doesn't quite have the killer hook that would make it special.

And that point applies to the album as a whole. 'Blurred Lines' is a slow burner because the songs aren't instantly memorable, but they do stick in the mind, especially when Johnny launches into a passionate refrain. . On 'You Played It Well' there's a laid back groove at work as he emotes Steve Gibbons style and builds it into something of an epic before a perfunctory finish.

'World on Fire' has a rockabilly feel with additional slide and some doomy lyrics. But just as you feel he's hitting base, we're back to plenty of bluster with a lack of real direction on 'The Violet Hush', which has a lovely flowing feel but then drifts off into a meandering narrative.

Like I said, 'Blurred Lines' is a curio. Its one of those albums that could grow on you but equally tests your patience as it demands repeated plays. At the very least Johnny sings passionately about a lifetime's experiences that give his brand of indie soul that extra bit of punch.


Review by Pete Feenstra

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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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