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What a privilege it is to welcome Ben Glover to Sheffield in November.
The music of Americana artists mixed with traditional Irish songs were the soundtrack for Ben Glover growing up in the sleepy seaside village of Glenarm in the north of Ireland. “I remember playing my first session in the local pub when I was about 13. As much as I loved playing Irish music I was always slipping in songs from Hank Williams or Johnny Cash. I cut my teeth performing both Irish and Americana influenced music and they are both a huge part of the artist that I am.”
In the summers during studying law at university he paid his way across the Atlantic by performing Irish folk ballads, the songs of Christy Moore and The Pogues in the bars in Boston, while back home in the pubs of Ireland he was singing Dylan and Springsteen.
This theme seems to be woven throughout his life - one artist influenced by two countries connected by the Atlantic Ocean.
Ben relocated to Nashville in 2009 and immersed himself in the southern culture. He began exploring the locations that were closely associated with the music he grew up listening to. “I remember very fondly spending the day in Montgomery, Alabama with a few shots of whiskey at Hank’s grave,” he recalls. “I drove to Dyess, Arkansas and spent the afternoon in Johnny Cash’s childhood home. The old gent who owned it invited me and it was mind-blowing to walk the floors that Cash did in his formative years. To experience the very places that influenced my musical heroes is something that is very important to me. It’s about deepening the connection with their legacy but more importantly it lets me get closer to the source of the fire that their music lit in me. Discovering such places often leads to discoveries within oneself. They are pilgrimages of sorts and all these journeys have made a deep impact on me.”
One cold rainy day in Christmas 2012, Ben headed down to the Mississippi Delta and in particular to the visit the grave of legendary bluesman, Robert Johnson. It was there that the idea of Atlantic was born. Although the flat alluvial plain that makes up the landscape of that part of the South is very different from the geography of Ireland the similarities between these two parts of the world were striking to him.
“There's a spirit in the Delta that reminds me a lot of Ireland. In both places you get a very strong sense of their history and tradition and you sense how the past has left its scars, both good and bad. These are two parts of the world that have been extremely fertile ground for inspiring phenomenal creativity - be it the blues from the Delta or the music, songs and poetry that have come out of Ireland. Maybe it was the ghost of an old rambling Delta bluesmen whispering in my ear when I was down there but I felt that it was time for me to somehow connect the two worlds that I have been living in in Ireland and the southern states of the US over the past few years.”
Upon returning from Mississippi he began thinking of his “two worlds” and was inspired to make a musical union between his homes on both sides of the ocean. Instead of recording another studio record in Nashville, Ben decided it was time to literally come back home and get as close to his roots as possible. Along with his producer Neilson Hubbard with whom he has made his three previous albums and fellow Nashville guitarist Kris Donegan, he flew home to Ireland. They were joined by two of Ben’s longtime Irish musical collaborators Matt McGinn and Colm McClean and the five set up a studio in the living room of the house in County Donegal where Ben vacationed as a child.
“It was a very stripped down, very honest way to bring these songs to life. I wanted to record in the most personal way possible so it was perfect to make this album with four of my closest friends in the house I spent a lot of time growing up in. I wanted there to be as little as possible between me and the songs and that’s why we recorded it live and raw. This intimacy also gives the listener a chance to really feel the music and the intent of each song without unnecessary layers. We just set up in a circle in the living room, lit a turf fire, opened some Bushmills whiskey and pressed record. It felt just like all the sessions I grew up playing in that house over years. The Atlantic Ocean is what we looked out on everyday while we made the album and without a doubt its presence and the rugged landscape of Donegal is huge on these recordings.”
The result of this homecoming is Atlantic and is easily Ben’s finest record. Atlantic deals with many themes - place, growth, pain, love, faith, sin, redemption and ultimately homecoming. It’s not only the recording that was personal - the songs, which Ben found deep within himself, were stripped of pretense and calculation and clearly are those of an artist who has something meaningful to say.
Whether it’s examining how the choices we make affect our fate in “Oh Soul” written with Mary Gauthier, or the haunting gothic murder ballad “Blackbirds“ co-written with and featuring Gretchen Peters, or the angst filled “Too Long Gone,” these songs are evidence of a writer and a singer who has found his voice.
Atlantic was released worldwide on 1st September 2014.