Paul Benoit,
(Zebadiah, 2012)

Though this is not the sort of album to which I am automatically drawn, Ragpickers is so accomplished and listenable that resistance is pointless.

A Seattle-based singer-songwriter, Paul Benoit is -- broadly speaking -- out of the James Taylor school. That's not to say he sounds particularly like Taylor, only that Taylor pretty much invented a particular kind of post-folk, acoustic-guitar pop music that, besides vague folkishness, incorporates elements of blues, r&b and rock. At least one cut, "Kickin' In," owes more to Paul McCartney than to Taylor. I'm neither for nor against McCartney -- actually, he and his music rarely enter my thoughts -- but I imagine this is a pretty good example of the faux-McCartney style. Well, let's drop the snark: it's a good pop song, period.

Ragpickers is expertly produced -- by Benoit himself -- calling on the services of a small band of fine rock-pop players who carry Benoit's polished vocal and intelligent lyrics. Owing to my own particular aesthetic bent, I am drawn to the relatively more downhome songs such as the not quite earnest spiritual anthem "Can't Stop Me" and the blues-tinged title piece, which works metaphors on multiple levels of meaning. Nice melodies, too. Benoit definitely has a talent for those.

Though James Taylor has always been able to deliver the goods himself, he has left us with a dubious legacy of mediocre singer-songwriters and injected into the culture the unfortunate notion that just about anybody can write a song. Benoit, on the other hand, is a credit to his tribe. Ragpickers shows there's life in the genre yet.

music review by
Jerome Clark

24 November 2012

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