The buzz about the new Raconteurs record is all over the music press so we’re starting to see Brendan Benson’s name increasingly bandied about. To be honest though, I really much prefer Brendan’s solo flights. Don’t get me wrong, his work with the band is great, particularly the hook-laden “Steady As She Goes.” But there is something about his solo work that gets straight to the melodic point for me. Exhibit A: “Tiny Spark,” from his stellar 2002 LP Lapalco. The striking keyboard opener draws you in to a lurching, driving poprock gem. Benson combines just the right amount of repetition and novelty to keep the listener on edge, in a good way. This was my first exposure to his work and I was blown away. On the bus from Toronto to my job in Peterborough in 2006 I wore out the repeat button on my iPod mini. Then I discovered the whole album was a keeper, with uptempo songs like “Good To Me,” “You’re Quiet” and “What” all candidates for potential follow up singles, while the more low key numbers like “Metarie” and “Jet Lag” showcased his Lennon-esque songwriting depth. No doubt co-writing nearly half the album (including “Tiny Spark”) with the super talented, melody maestro Jason Faulkner didn’t hurt.
Imagine my delight to discover a previous and subsequent release at the same time! One Mississippi kicked things off in 1996 and all the essential elements of Benson’s songwriting and performance genius were in evidence: strong material, crisp production and plenty of hooks. But it was the 2005 follow-up to Lapalco to turned me into a confirmed Benson-ite. Alternative to Love is flawless poprock record, full of earwormy, should-be hits like “Spit It Out” and “Warm Hands Cold Heart.” Both songs have siren-like seductive musical hooks that I associate with the very best of AM hit-making. “Spit It Out” has a fantastic charging rhythm guitar while “Warm Hands Cold Heart” relies on a hypnotic, atmospheric keyboard line to pull you in and keep you listening. The rest of album is solid, alternating tempo and attack, with many striking a Beatlesque acoustic vibe. Since then Benson’s been busy with The Raconteurs and a host of other projects with just a few, sporadic solo projects slipped in. But they contain some special moments too, like “Eyes on the Horizon” from 2009’s My Old, Familiar Friend, the title track from 2012’s What Kind of World, and “A Whole Lot Better” from 2013’s You Were Right.