Benjamin Mason : Dogs N Yaaa28.02.2018
Southern gothic singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt's career sparked into life with the 1996 release of a charity album, Sweet Relief II: Gravity of the Situation, that was composed of covers of his songs by much more famous associates (including, oddly, Madonna). A loose association formed in my mind last year when Pembrokeshire musician (and reported polymath) Benjamin Mason organised the prosaically named I Asked My Friends to Cover my Songs and This is What They Came Up With to support a local health charity.
The subliminal connection to Chesnutt holds more value when extended. The American was an exceptionally gifted, idiosyncratic artist - able to pen a bare, honest, emotionally affecting song and elsewhere equally successfully indulge his playful imagination. Benjamin Mason is from cloth of the same quality.
Dogs N Yaaa (it flummoxed me - it's an anagram of 'A Song a Day') is a straight re-release of Benjamin Mason's 2013 album - this time also in very limited edition physical form by Recordiau Prin.
The collection's unscrambled title comes from Mason recording the music at the rate of one piece a day (from conception to completion) during a very creative period. The result is that some of the compositions are quick, experimental but endearing sketches - yet the self-imposed time pressure clearly can also force an intensity of concentration and purpose. This is demonstrated by the second track, Untitled Feb 2013 (It's a shame), which forms the keystone of the album. Untitled... is a powerful, little adorned guitar/vocal work of bleak emotion as hard as winter and as blunt in effect as an R.S. Thomas poem.
That's not all this recording holds of wonder. There are two dexterous guitar instrumentals - the baroque atmosphere of Cold Winter at Woodstock Farm and the opening early morning mystery of Trochilius Song, complete with ambient recorded birdsong. Then amongst the rest you will find the whimsy of Winston, the looped experimentation of Willis Williams McJones-Edwards III and the off-kilter breeze of Mumma husk.
To understand Dogs N Yaaa's range and endearment you have to listen; it's an album to value for its moods and remorselessly expressed imagination, but immediately worth buying just for the vehement intensity of Untitled Feb 2013 (It's a shame). It is the song here that you should perhaps measure Mason's core talent from, but there is no moment on Dogs N Yaaa when the music does not take you to another place - and in the world we have made for ourselves that is no small thing.
BENJAMIN MASON I Untitled (It's a Shame)