Joyously along and across the grain.
Benjamin Dakota Rogers’ family live on a farm in Scotland. Not here. A place in Ontario, Canada. Around 170,000 Scots, mostly farmers, crossed the Atlantic to Canada between 1815 and 1870. It could be argued that the ships held more than a lot of agricultural knowledge. There must have been some spirit-making know-how and musical skills onboard.
Listen back to his last album, ‘Whisky and Pine’ and you’d think this can’t be the same singer. Rogers says he doesn’t play those songs live anymore and has moved in a different direction. Rogers’ reappraisal of his craft and the new unvarnished sound quickly began to receive attention on social media. His acoustic videos of songs that would be on this album, ‘John Came Home’ and ‘Blackjack County Chain’ amassed well over 12 million views. Rogers has evolved into a unique talent. It transpires that in the winter of 2022 Rogers returned to his family farm and felt a newfound appreciation towards his local terrain.
The writing and musicianship on ‘Paint Horse’ are second to none. Rogers’ wildly distinct voice is not always pleasant but it is interesting. Rogers finds a way to match his 1922 Stella tenor guitar to the guttural twang of his voice. Fiddle duties are magnificently handled by Sam Clark and bass by Peter Klaassen, who make up the sparse yet sturdy trio. The music is honestly great.
Rogers’ direction pulls from traditional bluegrass and folk themes. Stories of love, both true and unrequited, fratricide, the pioneering spirit, distance, despair, leaving, sadness, murder, and of course, a prison song. Of the thirteen song titles, seven include a person’s name. At times when he hollers it’s not so easy listening. ‘On Back to You’ when he sings the chorus, he sounds like a coyote-bitten Lewis Capaldi.
When music feels and sounds this good on a download, imagine hearing these songs played live? The Atlantic ain’t so big Benjamin. And the hope is he will winter at his folk’s farm again sometime soon. Any straws should be hastily clutched by the Scots to claim some stake in this wonderful album. If ‘Paint Horse’ was a brand of whisky it would be high-shelf.
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