Written by Mike Yoder, posted by blog admin
Portsmouth, UK born Ben Brookes traveled far to record his debut album The Motor Car & The Weather Balloon, but it quickly proves worth every mile. There’s a tangible transatlantic flavor to this ten song collection uniting Brookes’ obvious UK pop and rock influences with bluesy and gritty American derived gravitas impressing added meaning onto these performances. The creative brain trust behind the album’s creation is almost exclusively English in composition; Brookes is ably assisted by producer and former Badfinger member Greg Healey as well as legendary Badfinger guitarist Joey Molland. Keyboard Greg Inhofer and drummer Michael Bland headline the American pedigree of the project and their contributions to the final result are inestimable. The Motor Car & The Weather Balloon is a deceptively ambitious affair; the songs are immediately accessible and never sprawl, but there’s such relentless urgency and a widescreen point of view defining Brookes’ material that you find yourself more and more involved with the song’s implications and multiple meanings with each new listen.
The beauty of this album is apparent from the first song onward. “I Wanna Go Home” begins with a brief snippet of spoken word and ambient sound before launching into the song. His melodic strengths are immediately apparent. Some might identify a sort of sing-songy quality about the opener’s melody, but others will find it beguiling and the supporting instrumentation really makes the piece come alive as a whole. “Integration (Not Segregation)” has a little more obvious melodic complexity and continues with one of the album’s foundational elements – nearly every song on The Motor Car & The Weather Balloon sounds like it emerged from an acoustic guitar driven demo and you can discern the skeletal remains of that original structure in virtually every song. His lyrical artistry is apparent, as well, in the song “Crack a Smile” and this artfully turned “laughing to keep from crying” song might end up being one of the album’s true sleepers, so don’t gloss over it. His phrasing is especially exquisite on this number. “Before Sunlight”, however, is one of the obvious peak moments on the release thanks to another winning Brookes vocal melody and his singing exploits its potential to the fullest. The musical arrangement is substantive, yet it never threatens to overwhelm his voice. Instead, everything, once again, falls into a perfect balance with each other.
“Stories in the Rain” is one of the album’s harder edged numbers and the increased emphasis on guitar heroics makes it stand out on an album that often adopts a low-fi mood to memorable effect. Another of the aforementioned memories arrives with the song “Somewhere Around Eight”. It might be one of the freshest songs about heart break in recent memory and Brookes orchestrates its electric and acoustic elements alike with a sure hand. There’s some key electric guitar passages that give extra weight to the album closer “Shackles” and a strong chorus, but it’s the muted elegance of the finale and its lyrical content that are likely to stick with listeners. The Motor Car & The Weather Balloon would be an uber impressive outing from a veteran singer/songwriter, but coming from a first timer, it’s revelatory. There’s little question that this is a major new talent intent on bringing his music to the masses.