Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
There's some whistling at to begin "The Grips," one of the standout songs on Benjy Ferree's sophomore full-length album "Come Back To The Five And Dime, Bobby Dee Bobby Dee," that sounds as if it's full of innocence filtered through Satan's workshop. It holds within its few moments the touches of Disney birds trying to wake Cinderella up, and the morning tune coming out of the devil's morning-breathed mouth. Over-top some piano strikes, it casts a figure and here on our version of the song, the microphone catches more of the exhalations and adds another dimension to the thought, making it feel like someone's hunting breath on your neck, trying not to draw much attention, but finding that it's unable to help itself. There's a warble in there and it's eerie, in a way, just before Ferree jumps in with the line, "Where do all the good souls go?" and we're suddenly in the grips, just as we were warned we would be - stuck between vast ugliness and some reaching, but fetching hope for salvation that we think we'll be able to find if we just stick with this one dear soul. The fleet is coming, possible with pitchforks and hammer, torches lit to try and smoke out those bad souls or not caring who gets in front of the mob scene. There's an escape, a thumping heart as it's all happening and the belief is that things will be better soon - likely in an afterlife. This song hangs in "Come Back To The Five And Dime's" sequence just before a street recording of a little girl reading some dark, dark poem called "Iris Flowers," where she's reading about the welcoming from a high sun to the newborn sons and daughters. It warns that the Ouija board is not a game, but a key to the gates of hell. She reads, "So the world is still turning and it burns like hell/But the water's coming up to your knees/I'll stir it up if it does/I'll break off a stick if I must." It's some stark, stark imagery and from there we travel into the opening guitar roars of "I Get No Love," but it quickly breaks and the clouds are downgraded to some kind of tropical depression instead of a hurricane. They are stripped of some of their spurs and barbs, made less leaden and given a softer mood. The song becomes one of wanting and leaving, with Ferree singing, "I get no love in the morning…Everywhere you go you say/Man that looks just like her/It was nothing like her to get up and just leave/There's no other warning/To bring you from the trance…/Not a shard of window glass where love was born." It's a song about a dream girl and it's one of the only sort of breaks from the greater theme of life and death on this record for the Washington, D.C., artist Ferree, a master of thoughtful and disgustingly hooky pop songs (with a style and vocal sound that often remind of old Jack White) that often focus on characters, long-dead actors from the stage and screen, fascinating cads and drifters/next-door-neighbors and landlords, bar patrons who have gifted him some of their twisted yet authentic life experiences. Ferree is such a people person and a collector of their eccentricities that he's one as well, an artist as interesting as they come, crafting these songs rooted in old soul and doo-wop music and acting like salty characters from the turn of the century and earlier. As a people person, the idea of what happens with death - to all these people he's met and read about - must capture his mind, as he seems to show on this album, seeking to insist that maybe alive and dead are the same thing, that the party doesn't end no matter if you're going upstairs or down. The lost boys are everywhere. So are the lost girls, hearing the devil's snorts and chuckles and the harps as well. And maybe it's just that love is heaven and hell and it's just the devil moonlighting all over the place. The devil may care, but Ferree doesn't.
Benjy Ferree Official Site
Benjy Ferree's Debut Daytrotter Session