Written by: Jon
A country album, with tinges of psyche rock and ambitiously composed and performed instrumental backing for introspective, occasionally quirky lyrics? “Tell Me The Place” is all of this and more, a crafted, sumptuous collection of songs from a musician whose ability is inversely proportionate to his level of recognition as a songwriter and performer. Urban Farm Hand, or Ben Seal as everyone else knows him, resolutely fails to disappoint throughout the 11 tracks that constitute his second album, partly because as a sometime producer for other artistes, his songs are possessed of a practised studio glow that holds all the pieces of his aural jigsaws together. The other reason is the songs themselves, tales of quite real experience, of triumph, adversity and most things in between, songs that contain emotional depth although are never quite overwrought.
The album begins with the sound of a creaking melodeon and a confessional lyric :”I’ve been drinking whisky and fighting / but mostly with myself ” sings Ben in a voice that, while its tone is light and tuneful, contains sentiments more readily expressed in the rasping baritone of (it seems an obvious comparison) Tom Waits. But what other influences and themes are contained in Urban Farm Hand’s music? Some albums can seem as if they were recorded in approximately the amount of time it takes to listen to them. “Tell Me The Place” has the feel of having taken over a year to complete, perhaps as Ben Seal recorded songs and either reworked or abandoned them in favour of other tracks. Whether for this or some other reasons, the 11 songs on the album seem like a ‘best of’ from a series of recording sessions rather than a planned and cohesive song collection, something that adds a subtle dynamic to the album.
The song titles seem somewhat melodramatic at a first glance – “The Crushing Lows”, “The Cruel Father”, “Portrait Of A Careworn Mind”, and others, but the mood of the album isn’t so introspective as these might suggest. The swaying rhythms of “Never Came Back To Me” seem thrown together and the song only seems to work by chance as opposed to design, and as it breaks up into a sound collage of rattling guitars and haphazard percussion, the realisation that it has been composed down to the very last drum and guitar notes then that only confirms Ben Seal’s status as a talent unjustly hidden from us. The album title track is an easy on the ear folk number enlivened with sound effects that add an unpredictable punctuation to an already intricate track, and while he may never enjoy the acclaim of Tom Waits or any other of his influences, Ben Seal probably knows that he has made an album that will resonate with anyone that actually gets to hear it.