Collaboration guided this selection. Over the years Ben Glover is someone who has written and performed extensively with a wide range of fellow americana artists in studios, and outside, in the US, Europe and his Northern Ireland home. His three Orphan Brigade albums with Joshua Britt and Neilson Hubbard are exemplars of partnership but Glover’s 2018 album ‘Shorebound’, his seventh solo release, gets the nomination for this ‘Classic Album’, not just for the number of musicians on the album but for its significance on his own life, ten years of recording and musical fellowship.
For someone who spent years shuttling between Ireland and his Nashville home much of Glover’s material has an itinerant feel. Where do I belong? seemed to be a question if not posed specifically, is one that would surface regularly, particularly on ‘The Emigrant’. In contrast, his subsequent release ‘Shorebound’ creates a much greater sense of belonging both in his natural and adoptive homes. Way back in his early days in Nashville he had a regular gig in an Irish bar where, playing old Irish folk songs, he fell in love with all the old music again. ‘Shorebound’ reflects that more settled feeling.
Among his guests are Mary Gauthier, Gretchen Peters, Neilson Hubbard and Kim Richey. Glover does not just rate them highly as musicians, they are also his friends. ‘Shorebound’ is about taking stock with his closest collaborators over the previous decade. As he put it at the time, “I get a lot out of working with other people. You’ll have to ask them if that’s mutual!. All are very honest writers, I believe like attracts like. This is a true bond, organic and definitely not a marketing idea to drum up sales”.
The ease starts right at the beginning with the confident sounding ‘What You Love Will Break Your Heart’ co-written with Amy Speace. The rich sound of guitarists Kris Donegan and Juan Solezano are boosted by Neilson Hubbard’s sumptuous production. Glover’s husky voice gains greater prominence in ‘A Wound That Seeks The Arrow’. This duet with Angel Snow has an atmospheric backing that at no point upstages the two singers harmonising then taking turns. ‘Northern Stars’ featuring Majolian and Matt McGinn takes Glover back to his Irish home highlighting his reflective style.
As befits his co-writer Mary Gauthier ‘Killer In The Catbird Seat’ is dark, all about murder. They wrote it while on tour in Ireland again tying in Glover’s roots to his new home. They create a haunting sound of impending malevolence. Glover’s voice quivers with tension as the slide wails in the background. The strain continues on ‘Dancing With the Beast’ written with Gretchen Peters and title track to her own album. Between them they get right into the hopelessness of a relationship based on dominance, “We circle round the room together/Seal this devil’s bargain with a kiss/ One by one the lights go out inside me/ And I’m falling into the abyss”.
‘Ride The River’ with Kim Richey has an expansive air of a travelling song. It is good to see producer Neilson Hubbard featuring on a song himself; ‘A Song For The Fighting’ builds into a mighty crescendo but again the superb arrangements never swamp Glover’s persistent question, “Tell me what you believe in?” There is an upbeat, very high quality pop vibe to ‘Wildfire’, perhaps that’s Ricky Ross. It’s chorus blasts, “We’re going to rage/we’re going to burn/ We’re going to spread like wildfire”. Glover could have been doing this stuff all his life.
The final two collaborations return to pure americana, particularly with Antony Toner on ‘My Shipwrecked Friend’. Together they declare their support for a friend who’s fallen on hard times in the vivid imagery of shipwreck survivors. Robert Vincent is the partner on ‘Keeper Of My Heart’, which brings out Glover’s bond with the natural world.
Of his two solo compositions ‘Kindness’ has a very simple message, in this toxic world a little kindness would help so much. In the intervening four years that seems all the more relevant. As he said then about the song, ”it pulls together all the lessons I’ve learned in life. It’s my personal mantra and if I could pass on anything that might help the world, it would be the importance of kindness. The song is me talking to myself”. It is a prayer, “More than all/ May this be true/ May you know kindness/ May kindness know you”, is given added resonance as Glover’s voice drops to a whisper.
‘Shorebound’ is a sublime collaboration in which Ben Glover’s natural ability to complement the individual qualities of each artist while maintaining his own style gives a very complete album of americana.