Benjamin Mason : I Asked My Friends to Cover my Songs and This is What They Came Up With28.07.2017
There are thirteen songs in this collection; Pulco performs two of them - the opening Oh To Be A Drifter, which is the swaggering march of a proud but down-at-heel circus band, plus a brilliant, melancholic and bitter reading of Untitled (It's a Shame). Everyone else involved chose one Benjamin Mason original to interpret.
Mason is a Pembrokeshire based singer-songwriter, unafraid to experiment, with a radiant back catalogue. Welsh artists Undersound, Easy Buffalo, Yewdrops, Quiet Noise, Derren Heath, Jonski, Ian Thistlethwaite, Matthew Frederick and Jodie Marie all accepted the challenge to cover his songs, joined by Ryu (Japan) and Todd Tuttle & Douglas Seidel (US). The resultant album has been released for a charity, which is vital to its commercial purpose, but irrelevant for the review. I Asked My Friends to Cover my Songs and This is What They Came Up With stands on its own quality.
Around Pulco's two gems the rest of the record offers a shifting balance of left field acoustic and electronic music. Not one of Mason's compositions proves fragile in his friends' hands; the whole is an absorbing listen made coherent by shared sensibilities, and the craft put into making each piece animated.
Despite the consistent class of the contributions, and Pulco aside, there are four more tracks that standout.
First, Undersound's Take a Solar Ship is an impressive and radical remix - slow, electronic and percussion heavy with an edge of drama at odds to the original. The tension of Undersound's Take a Solar Ship is also reflected in the next highlight, Yewdrops' Alacazam, a superb reading of a very good song, with the atmosphere of understated menace and otherness of Dummy-era Portishead.
The closing duo offer the other moments of real beauty.
For the penultimate track, Matthew Frederick has taken You Will Always Be My Girl, and with a simple piano / vocal arrangement turned it into a muted but magnificent essay of love, yearning and regret. His best solo performance to date.
Jodie Marie closes the compilation with Skies are Falling; over an elementary keyboard part and subtle electronic drone her vocal is full of emotion, honeyed and exquisite; capturing a mood of worn resignation and despair.
The 'friends' element of the album title is a vital component of the drive behind the creativity presented - probably explaining why there are no off-cuts in this set. There's a reverence for the source material, and for its author, in all the work here. When asked, Matthew Frederick outlined his motivation for taking part, then added a dash of self-deprecating humour;
"I've been a friend, and a fan, of Ben's for a few years now, so it was an absolute pleasure when he asked me to be involved with this project, and the fact that it's for such a great cause is a wonderful bonus. I particularly enjoyed battling it out with Jodie Marie for the title of 'Most Miserable Cover On The Record', which I think I just about sneaked."
With this splendid anthology you won't fully orientate yourself on the first listen, or the second, but the investment of listening time to eventually do so is worth it. I Asked My Friends to Cover my Songs and This is What They Came Up With is less of an album, more admission into a compelling contemporary gallery of first-rate aural curios.
Buy the album on Bandcamp : £5 DL / £10 CD. I Asked My Friends to Cover my Songs and This is What They Came Up With has been released to raise money for The Thorne Mason Trust, which is a Pembrokeshire based charity aiming to help brain tumour sufferers in the area. They have also donated large amounts to Brain Tumour Research, and are currently funding a PHD student.