'Broken Road' album review.
Review by Nick James
“Making a deal with the devil” is a theme common in European folklore and one that has been adopted further afield. This is something that has reigned throughout modern times, is seen in many texts, be that in written, spoken or visual form. Another way of expressing these ideas has also been presented when it comes to musical concepts and this deal with the devil might just represent a feeling someone has – of themselves, or the path their own life has taken. It has been represented most famously in the story of bluesman Robert Johnson, who it is said: “made a deal with the devil”, something his unique sound and songwriting were attributed to.
However you choose to look at it, you might ask what this has to do with the fourth studio album Broken Road from singer/songwriter Ben Hemming. Listening to many of Ben’s previous recordings, something that comes across is the richness in which his music breathes. Previous tracks such as ‘Dead Man Blues‘, ‘Never Had A Heart‘ or ‘Devil’s Soul‘, have led me to consider whether he has made this unlikely pact? Of course, it could just be that Hemming has in his tone and musical presentation the ability to project this image and yes, it feels damn good. Opening this latest album is ‘Say You Will‘, a song about a past romance, or perhaps something slightly darker. Well the former would seem to be the case, in a song which seems more like a lament to a romance past; this might be derived from the opening line in which Hemming sings “For many years I’ve walked this broken road and never took me back to you…” and further continues, “…a recurring nightmare, with just me to blame…“. Interestingly it would seem that in this song both a lost love and mistakes are explored, with an extremely solid backing lent to produce this richness, and that is something we have become accustomed to hearing from this artist.
He has been described as a “Nu-bluesman” and his music as “Alt-Rock” on the blurb that accompanied this release, whereas on his Soundcloud page “Indie” is the description. In case you are put off by any of these genres, look at this as an extremely competent musical journey into someone’s soul, with those deals that accompany the legend of Robert Johnson laid bare. A common theme would appear that many of the songs have been played on a big old jumbo-acoustic, which produces a fantastic tone up front, with a grinding electric played to back this up. From tracks ‘Dark Deals’, to ‘Holy War’, through ‘Knowing When To Die’, culminating with ‘The Devil’s Door’ – a slightly more melancholy tale, although one that still possesses a menace that would warm even the coldest heart – the journey experienced from listening to Broken Road is a thoroughly uplifting one in both sense and emotion.
The album follows a consistency that has become familiar from this artist, so much so that this just might be the greatest deal he has ever struck.
'The Devil Beside Me' album review.
Review by Tom Walker
Ben Hemming having written all the tracks in this album, is to be congratulated on producing a fairly visceral and gut-wrenching musical experience that has blues overtones but is in reality a pretty unique form which doesn’t fall into any pigeon hole. If anything, there is a sort of bleakness to this album which is his third, but that ought not to be a barrier as the quality of the music and lyrics is anything but dark.
This is the product of a musician whose journey thus far has created a richly dynamic ability in a cross of Blues/Americana. If the lyrics written by Ben are reflective of his own feelings then there is a form of vulnerability in this musician, though in real terms he ought not to be vulnerable since he has quality in abundance.
The opening track “Dead Man Blues” really sets out this sombre mood, but track 3 “Feeling Holy” is anything but religious in tone with superb guitar playing. There is a drive and raw energy about this album which is epitomised in my opinion by track 4 “Never Had a Heart”. Hemming is superbly aided and abetted on this album with James Hosking on Bass and Luigi Rampino on Drums with former Depeche Modes Mark Waterman overseeing the production. All of the tracks are quality and it would be trite to suggest that any particular one was a favourite. The whole album is worth a punt of anyone’s money and despite the relative darkness suggested, has light in his ability.
'The Devil Beside Me' album review.
Review by Norman Darwen
Deep, dark, bleak, brooding blues-rock with a folky edge is what singer songwriter and guitarist Ben Hemming purveys on The Devil Beside Me, complementing the haunted nature implied by the title of this, his third long player.
They might not be walking side by side, but Ben is treading in the same footsteps of Robert Johnson here, and there is a little bit of Bob Dylan in the ever-so-slightly detached and angry-but-resigned vocals, a hint of the more introspective Led Zeppelin in the heavy arrangements, plenty of raw, down-home emotion and maybe - just maybe - a feeling of catharsis.
It is an individual nu-blues approach, not quite like anything else around despite the references just made. “Get your own sound”, was the advise that the older bluesman would give to the younger generation, and that is what Ben does here - as such, he is far closer to ‘the blues’ than any amount of covers of ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ or ‘The Blues is Alright’.
'The Devil Beside Me' album review.
Review by Andy Snipper
Huge, dark, bleak and troubled. One of the best things I’ve heard this year.
Ben Hemming has had two previous albums out, both in this dark nu-Blues genre, but this is a breakthrough for him, all of his previous strains coalescing into a an album that has you on the edge of your seat, ears pricked to find the depths of his music and a nervous feeling that he is standing right behind you while you listen.
The energy in the music, replete with a sense of exhausted passion, carries the songs forward while some truly deranged playing creates a cacophony that perfectly suits his growling vocal.
The songs deal with inner demons and from the opening number ‘Dead Man Blues’ you are instantly focussed on his vocals and his words. There are touches of Tom Waits and Bone Zeno in the sound, especially in the thumping bass and drums (courtesy of James Hosking and Luigi Rampino) and Hemming’s own screaming guitar.
That leads into the low and impassioned ‘Inside’, much the same recipe and then into ‘Feeling Holy’ and you are feeling that Hemming is putting some really dark thoughts into song – if it works as catharsis for him, it works for the listener as well.
Much of the music here would work equally well as Heavy Metal, the intensity is almost palpable and the commitment so strong.
Marc Waterman’s production is giving Hemming’s music an entire new layer of structure and bringing out all of his talents.
A terrific album.
Gig Review, Half Moon Putney, London.
Review by Humphrey Fordham
With his more than reverent penchant for pre-WW 2 Delta Blues, Ben Hemming could easily be accused of taking the easy path towards a crowd-drawing niche market. That, however, is not the case, if his stand-alone musical persona is anything to go by.
His songs are embellished with a contemporary alt-rock sheen which give an obvious nod to the likes of Sonic Youth and Arcade Fire; while his ‘One Man Band’ performing set-up goes full circle to the bygone days of Jesse Fuller.
Now aged 37, he has spent the last few years extensively touring Europe and the U.S.A., soaking up influences that can be read about in both his blog and vlog.
On Monday night in sedate riverside Putney, this suitably nomadic musician used his acoustic guitar chords and riffs as ammunition for his straight-ahead original songs. Hemming plays rhythmic blues with little in the way of impro-noodling. This is exemplified in ‘The Old Country’ - naturally recorded at Jack White’s The Third Man label last summer. His twin pedal-drums pound ruthlessly in the best Moe Tucker fashion.
‘Rambling Man’ - all about his travels - has a religious fervour evocative of Blind Willie Johnson. Things are taken to an almost elevated level with the guitar nicely synonymous with the drums. It has a short but sweet shoegazer-style ending at the end. Unexpected bliss.
‘Broken Man’, which suitably follows, sees Hemming play his cigar-box guitar using a judicious amount of bottleneck, with a shimmery Hubert Sumlin attack all the way through. For still a young guy from the West Midlands, his knowledge is frighteningly impeccable. You wouldn’t want to steal his thunder in a pub discussion about Paramount 78s!
The desperate ‘My Drinking Days’ has a folky strum and a Kurt Cobain-esque key-change. Cobain’s appreciation of Leadbelly has been well-documented over the years, and it is fitting that Hemming has recorded a You Tube film of himself playing a cover of Nirvana’s cover of The Vaselines’ ‘Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam’. It reinforces the somewhat unacknowledged point that ‘grunge’ was directly descended from ‘the blues’. An intelligent all-encompassing move.
In the current climate of the inane applause machine, we should be thankful that we have maverick musicians like Ben Hemming who are willing to ‘educate’ us, while putting themselves out on a limb. They don’t come round very often!
"City of Streets" album review
Review by Rainey Wetnight
Blues Blast Magazine has characterized the music of Great Britain’s Ben Hemming as “songs of bleak beauty.” The cover art of his sophomore release, City of Streets, is certainly bleak, all in shades of washed-out blue-grays. According to Ben’s website, featuring the above quote, “The title of the album…was chosen as the majority of the songs were written in London, were Ben Hemming is currently based, and were an attempt to embody the isolation that lies at the heart of the modern metropolis.” Sound depressing? It kind of is, as is the ambiance of this CD. FULL DISCLOSURE: Drone/trance blues is not everyone’s cup of tea, whether it comes from the UK or the North Mississippi Hill Country. Hemming’s angst-ridden monotone will remind listeners far more of R.E.M. or Kurt Cobain than Jimmy Reed or Albert Collins. There are no danceable numbers on this album, either, although a few are up-tempo. One good thing about it is that every song is original, with an hour’s worth of meaning packed into just over thirty minutes.
States Moria Dennnison, Hemming’s publicist: “City of Streets is Ben Hemming’s second studio album and was recorded in the small Norwegian town of Spydeberg, 40 minutes away from the capital, Oslo, at ‘Velvet Recording’ – a state-of-the-art studio with an impressive live room. This enabled Ben Hemming’s backing band to be recorded playing together, and gave an amazing live vibe to the album. It was produced by Nick Terry, who has worked with some big names such as The Libertines, Ian Brown, and Klaxons. His initiative, work ethic, and production techniques gave the release a distinctive sound all of its own.”
Performing along with acoustic guitarist Hemming are Raf Ruocco on double bass and Eric Young on drums.
The following tune may not be blues per se, as most people know them, but it’s the one that made Ms. Rainey Wetnight sit up in her computer chair and pay strict attention.
Track 04: “Devil’s Soul” – This magazine’s genre of choice has often been called “the devil’s music,” as opposed to soul and gospel. Our narrator claims to have the spirit of the Adversary within his own mortal frame. With a hard-driving, chugga-chugga rhythm on his acoustic shredder, Ben Hemming howls in torment as he sings the lyrics. “Show me where to go,” he begs God – or his audience – in the chorus. The band Nirvana would be right proud of this number.
London is a City of Streets. If you’re in a zone-out mood, blues fans, Ben Hemming can relate!
"City of Streets" album review
Review by Jim Santella
A singer with grit and determination, Ben Hemming hails from England. Along with Eric Young on drums and Rafaele Ruocco on stand-up bass, he delivers eleven original songs on this, his second studio album. His deep baritone voice lends itself to American country music, where clarity and a laid-back serenity make their fortune. Hemming puts his listeners at ease with his tales of city life and what one does day to day to keep oneself sharp. "My Drinking Days," "I Feel It" and "Got It Nailed" demonstrate his intention with a pleasant demeanor.
Ruocco plays the acoustic bass much like a guitar, showing harmony, melody and an ever-present rhythm. Along with drummer Young he provides a powerful force behind the singer. Hemming, on the other hand, carries on like a country balladeer who sometimes calls it peaceful and sometimes gets all revved up. Their song "Nashville" lets the trio explore the open road with a driving rhythm and a travelin' tale. They give each selection a personal feel and a contemporary twist while keeping their session acoustic. While only 33 minutes long, Hemming's CD stands out as a refreshing postcard from three dedicated artists.
"City of Streets" album review
Review by Adam Falkingham
Introducing songwriter, storyteller and all-round original bluesman, Ben Hemming. Based in London, Hemming has certainly brought an exciting buzz to the capital. Performing live with a full band across Europe and North America, Hemming's second record is gaining very positive reviews and critical success.
City of Streets is like a journey on an old American locomotive. Hemming creates his own blend of Americana and Blues in a serious yet rough and ready style that makes you want to stamp your feet. Introducing the album is the deep and dark track "Rambling Man. The distinctive and bright acoustic guitar helps to lead the way through lyrics that depict a wandering man with nowhere to go. Tracks like My Drinking Days and Nashville fuel the album and make it sound alive. Railway track rhythms fuelled by empowering acoustic-blues riffs are intertwined with lyrics that dive into the depths of Hemming's experiences. I Feel It is an upbeat blues-rock track featuring a slide guitar; it is one of the strongest and most memorable tracks on the album in which Hemming writes about the Devil and his soul.
The very last track,High, closes the album in a very different way as to what you would expect from the previous ten tracks. The track's lyrics are about looking back at the highs and lows of Hemming's life, illustrating his past to the listener. Whilst the verses are written like a story being told, the chorus is catchy with a slightly atmospheric but psychedelic twist. There's certainly a very credible lyricist within this collection of well crafted songs.
City of Streets was recorded during the bleak winter of 2017 in the small Norwegian town of Spydeberg at ‘Velvet Recording’ and was produced by Nick Terry (Klaxons, Ian Brown and The Libertines). The setting and experiences played a huge role in creating the intensity and atmosphere that this album beholds.
We look forward to hearing more of Ben Hemming and, as good as this album is, we can't wait to hear it live at one of his gigs. You can purchase City of Streets here
In Their Own Words "Blues In Britain Magazine"
I’m a london based singer-songwriter originally from worcester in the midlands. I play regularly in london with my band, and I tour Europe and the States each summer.
I got into music really when I was in my teens. I’m from a pretty rural area, it’s mainly a farming community, and when I was growing up there was nothing much to do apart from getting into trouble. Playing the guitar was a way of escaping from all of that. I remember sitting in assembly at school one day and the teacher announcing that there would be guitar lessons after school. I turned to my friend and asked if I should give it a go. He just laughed at me, that’s what peoples attitude is like where i’m from, afraid to do anything slightly against the grain. but I went ahead and did it anyway. I only showed up to one or two sessions until I decided that I wanted to play in my own way, not the ridged way i was being tort. But it was a good life lesson for me. Never listen to other people when it comes to what you can and can’t do. Most people live there lives in a box and are afraid of anything outside of it. when it comes to advise from people about my music, I tend to take everything with a pinch of salt unless it’s from someone who i really respect.
It was about that time that I started really getting into to music, listening to the lyrics and the meaning behind the songs. I’d always been exposed to music from an early age, my mother used to play the beatles in the car on the way to school, but it wasn’t until I started playing guitar that I really started to listen. How i got into the Blues was far from the usual route. At that time nirvana were at the hight of their fame, and it’s not till looking back now that I realise how much they influenced me, or more specifically Cobain’s vocals and songwriting. It was through Nirvana’s album ‘Unplugged in New York’ that I discovered Lead Belly, through a cover the band did of Lead Belly’s ‘Where did you sleep last night’. His music opened the door for me to a whole new world of music, artists like Sun House, Howlin’ Wolf, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Big Joe Williams, Mississippi John Hurt, artists who went on to inspire rock ’n’ roll and modern music as we know it today.
A few years back I decided I wanted to take a road trip around the States, it was a kind of a musical pilgrimage for me. I didn’t really play that much the first time I was there, although I did take my guitar, maybe a gig or two I picked up along the road. But what was really inspiring to me was the music and the people I met along the way. Not necessarily in the main stream music venues, but from guys I saw just playing in the streets. I remember stumbling home drunk one night, along the main drag of Nashville, and there was this guy with a small crowd around him, and when I got closer I could see why. He was playing and old bass drum with his feet, while hammering away at a home made guitar with only three strings. Run through an amp with the gain turned up it sounded amazing. It was only till later that I found out it was a cigar box guitar. I managed to pick one up on that trip, in a guitar shop down a back street in new orleans. I still play it as part of my live set today and the twang of those strings always takes me back.
That trip really influenced my live sound. I have two set ups when I play live, depending on the venue, location and logistics of the show. I feel that gives a real variety not only for the audience but for my playing as well. I do a solo set, in a kind of one man band set up, I play a foot drum (a farmer junior stomp drum) and a foot tambourine, while I play my trusty Gibson J45 acoustic. That guitar has seen some real mileage, it’s been all over Europe and the States and it’s never let me down once. I play a lot with the e down tuned to a D. It gives a extra depth to my sound when i’m playing solo. I also have a band, for those bigger shows, or more rowdy joints when you need an extra bit more oomph. Raf Ruocco plays double bass for me, That guy is really cooking, and Eric Young, his drumming has a really tight groove that just keeps everything together, we have a great energy live. Nothing beats playing with other pros like that.
I was recently lucky enough to get together with my band and do some recording in a pretty special studio couple of months back. An old friend of mine approached me saying that he’d heard some of my music online and wondered if I’d be interested in doing some recording a studio he was running. At the time I already had an album out called ‘Broken Man’, that I had recorded at my home studio and self released, but I wanted to record a single and b side in the aim of eventually recording an album. We agreed to meet up and look around the studio and decide on a date.The studio turned out to be ‘Grand Cru Studios’ a 100 year old 110 foot dutch barge moored in central London that belonged to Pete townsend. The barge was converted into a private studio in the late 70’s and it had just opened it’s doors as a public studio. My ‘old friend’ Myles Clarke had been working with pete in the studio and was now the producer there. Myles has worked with some big names in the industry and I was very fortunate to be working with him. The studio had a great live room and sounded amazing when Ii got my band in to record the now released single ‘Rambling Man’ and the B side ‘The Colour Of My Blues’. We had a great vibe in that studio and access to a lot of vintage gear and I think that really comes across in the music. The single has enjoyed lots of air time on the radio and done really well in the online market. I just can’t wait to record another album now.
Ben Hemming "Broken Man"
Review by Rudie Humphrey
It is a furious primeval start to this record - Blues wailings sung like a man racked with cabin fever. I’m not sure if it is, but sounds like an album using vintage gear, solid state mics, cooking up a stark, bleak far away resonance, tunes for the post apocalypse. Hemming has a voice of David Gahan of depeche mode, in its rawest form, it is a rough hewn thing, pared back, boiled down to the base elements.
Often hurtful, dark, stabby; it is an album with bitter on its breath, and a bruise forming under its eye, skin is missing from its knuckles. It is often spat rather than sung, an urgency to be heard pervades. ‘What I Once Had’ sounds a lot like Eddie Vedder doing evenflow. The whole thing has been clipped, shorn short, songs say what they need, and get out. There is a spiky sharpness, music like a rabbit punch in the kidneys. Hemming won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and no mistake it is a tough listen – the album is beautiful, but in that harsh, eastern european, soviet concrete structure kind of way. a dark solitary collection of music, apt for a world of woe, a story of survival, of just getting by, this is a new Blues.
Blues Blast Magazine
Ben Hemming - Broken Man
Review by Rhys Williams
Broken Man is Ben Hemming’s debut album and it’s a refreshingly different release that hints at great things to come from the London-based singer-songwriter.
Accompanying himself on acoustic guitar playing, with what sounds like foot drums (presumably also played by Hemming), the odd handclap and very minimal effects (such as on “Found My Way”), the album has one foot firmly in the folk camp, whilst looking both back to the early blues of Son House and Charlie Patton and forwards to the nihilistic energy and smart lyrics of punk and new wave.
Hemming’s guitar playing is simple and direct, often alternating single-note verses with strummed choruses or the use of a slide on tracks such as “Cigarette Blues”. He also favours repetitive, droning riffs in tracks like “Lies”. which sounds like Broken Man should be dull and dirge-like, and it could be were it not for Hemming’s remarkable voice. Sounding vulnerable one moment, furious another and world weary the next, Hemming constantly produces unexpected melodies, holding notes he shouldn’t really hold and moving on from notes you expect him to settle on. at times, there are hints of Jim Morrison’s smooth, distant baritone (“I Make a Living”) or desperation of Chris Cornell (“What I Once Had”) while at other times it is difficult to even make out the lyrics as they are mumbled and slurred, but the end result is all Hemming.
There is a palpable energy on a number of songs such as “This City”, where Hemming spits out the lyrics with a dismissive sneer that wouldn’t sound out of place on an early Dr Feelgood record. But it is the quieter songs that are perhaps most impressive. in particular, the primarily a capella “It Rained So Hard” has blues, folk and gospel influences and is a emotionally powerful statement of intent.
Hemming is a noted fan of Jack Kerouac and the influence of the likes of “On The Road” is discernable in Hemming’s lyrics. On “Found My Way” he sings in a voice as old and weary as the hills: “made my way to memphis, and down to New Orleans, tried to make a name there, but came apart at the seams. I tried a time in Nashville, down in Tennessee. tried to make a home there, but it’s just not for me.”
Hemming describes his music as “gothic americana” and that’s as good a label as any. part blues, part folk, part rock and part gospel, Broken Man is a collection of songs of bleak beauty and resigned acceptance of the lottery of life. It is also a fascinating and highly enjoyable release.
Blues Rock Review
Ben Hemming: Broken Man review
Review by Mckinne Sizemore
Broken Man is the debut release from London-based singer-songwriter Ben Hemming. Beginning with the track “Black Heart,” Hemming dresses the song with a jangling guitar riff that finds itself repeated in the chorus under Hemming’s accusing echo. Clapping hands, breaking glass, and barking dogs lends ambiance to “The Old Country” while “This City” is the litany of a tired soul, a disillusioned denizen of a dark and seedy metropolis.
“What I Once Had” once again showcases hemming’s ability to write catchy, one-off guitar riffs, and the album’s title track has a distant, scraping sound to it that gives Hemming an empty landscape which he populates with his resonant voice. Cleaner sounding than any of the preceding tracks, “I Make a Living” features clearly plucked strings accentuated by an abrading slide of the guitar while “Inclined” has a faster pace and a hypnotic, repeated drum beat.
With its distorted strings and reminiscing lyrics, the song “Cigarette Blues” is the most lamentful of the album’s tracks. Accompanied only by a continuous downpour and a distant march of percussion, the track “It Rained So Hard” is the most adventurous as well as the most sonically spacious. “Found My Way” is a vagabond’s ballad of looking for a home somewhere on the road and “Lies” is an admission of defeat set to an acoustic guitar. the album concludes with “The Road” which fittingly elevates the mood of the album with the familiarly warped instrumentation and Hemming’s lonely howl.
Broken Man is a sonic pulverizer of the album that grabs a hold of the listener from the outset with its boot stomping, glass-chewing grind and refuses to relent for a memorable 32 minutes. This album is a must own for all fans of the music of T-bone Burnett and all fans of electric guitars and ghostly southern blues.
'Broken Road' album review.
Review by Stephen Harrison
This is the fourth album that Ben Hemming has released and the second one to be recorded in Norway. Now, anyone in the world of blues music knows that the Scandinavian blues scene is as good as anywhere else in the world. There seems to be an ever-increasing number of blues artists plying their trade there. Take a bow Seasick Steve. All ten songs on the album were written by Hemmings who has made his musical career in the blues telling stories relating to him in a blues style. Often dark and brooding and this album is no different.
Say You Will kicks off the album laying the dark side of his story out in the open. The lyrics and vocals present darkness which permutates alongside music. One thing that emerges from the off is that Hemmings vocal style is perfectly suited to this kind of delivery. Holy War has an acoustic intro that is surprisingly mellow but also has a hint of foreboding. It then drives further into an up- groove only to come back down again into a softer acoustic trip. It tells a tale as if it were riding a rollercoaster, ebbing, and flowing musically. Personally. I think Hemmings voice suits the acoustic side of his nature better than the electrical side. That is not a criticism by any means, but merely an observation on how the lyrics and vocals combine with the musical arrangement. It is borne out in the song, Fading Out. Short and to the point, Hemmings lyrics and vocals make this a wonderful tune. Now, if you are expecting an all-out blues album in its finest traditions, then this album is not for you. However, if you like dark brooding melancholy style blues with good lyrics and a great arrangement then check this album out. Knowing When To Die, for me sums up what the album is all about.
Blues hidden beneath a blanket of woe told in a world that we have all been to at least once.