Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Patrick Stolley
Ben Cartright has beardy facial hair that you're bound to spot crumbs and splotches of misplaced sauces in. He sports a medium-sized Abraham Lincoln top hat on occasion, boots that have been beaten and were designed for those who cleaned out horse stalls in the 19th century and thick black suspenders - a true look of a ragamuffin, a garish nod to pioneer days and the gold rush era, before California turned plastic.
There seems to be no real place that Cartright, the hoarse-voiced leader of a group that shares his surname and which our homie Paleo called "the only current band that matters" earlier this spring, belongs to. To watch Cartright (the man) on stage is to watch a man, who always sounds as if he's in the throes of throat goblins and other serious vocal ailments, stomp and spit and bang through a form of revival. It's a testimonial to the vices and the sirens.
The vices that Cartright takes are the typical ones of moonshine and various other spirits. The sirens are the same likely stories - the women who kick back, whose seductive qualities lead men to moonshine and so on and so forth. There is free-wheeling and messiness interwoven into every one of Cartright's lamenting songs about the search for someone to spend a warm bed with. Oh, they're not all about that, but the most striking numbers share a common denominator with the hearts of the lovelorn.
There is a lot of warning involved with a lot of the writing too. You're entering the lion's den ladies, there is no rosewater or warm towels all of the time - sometimes where will be spurs and tears, a smoldering kind of love that is all in or all out, with the ability to visit both sides of the screen. When you listen to Cartright closely, there is a harsh flow of ensnarled despair. There are numerous mentions of being stabbed in the back and the force with which Cartright stumbles elegantly through these roughshod dilemmas, is spooky and unflinching.
His words can carry with them the same heat an ant must feel as a child holds a magnifying glass above it, directing a red hot piece of sun down on it as it's grilled alive. Cartright is good, very good, not evil, but there's a dark lining to all that he does, substituting for the silver one that usually gets the headlines. More close listening makes one think about all the people who are ready for death, not the surprises, not the ones who are passing on at young ages, before they've really lived.
It's then, when death is either welcome or perfectly timed when the entrance into whatever's next must not be terrifying, but just another adventure. Should the time be right, the voice of the grim reaper might need to sound imposing and like a cup of coffee, all at the same time. It wouldn't be necessary to separate the two degrees of formality that the reaper must need to take at that time - the part of the job that's most satisfying. Cartright's husky delivery could be the prototype for that voiceover, welcoming those the afterlife and making being the one to make the announcement about where they should direct their souls - to the pits of hell or the white of heaven.