Singer/songwriter Ben Lorentzen describes his sound as “acoustic pop noir” and from the first few notes of his album America you understand exactly what he means. The pop part seems to be more of a reference to the accessibility of the music, not so much it’s chart friendliness. Most of the tracks are on the slower side, but crafted with a diverse collection of instruments from guitars and banjos to piano and harmonica, with an occasional synth hanging out in the shadows. Lorentzen also covers a wide range of topics from politics and religion to war and nature, but approaches them as more of a commentator instead of an activist.
“Master of War,” for example, could have been written any time in American history, and indeed it’s very American sound (banjo’s, guitar) cements the case. Like many before him, he questions the concept of war but gives it a thoughtful twist asking those who would take military action “could even Jesus forgive what you do?”
Some liken Lorentzen to Nick Cave or Leonard Cohen, and while that is an apt comparison, his pallet is a bit wider. “Heap of Ashes,” one of the peppier numbers, puts one in the mind of comic troubadour Henry Phillips, but in a more serious yet light-hearted vein. “Iron Bells,” conjures up visions of Sting, while the single, “My American Revolution” recalls mid-career Love & Rockets.
America though is not patchwork of other artists and their influences on Lorentzen, it’s a cohesive set of mellow, and at points catchy, collection of tunes. Too often acoustic and folk acts, in attempt to avoid any suggestions of pop, also dispense with hook and melodies. Lorentzen doesn’t appear to have that problem comfortably walking the line between integrity and accessibility.
8 Americans out of 10
PF Wilson has been writing about music, TV, radio, and movies for over 20 years. He has also written about sports, business, and politics with his work appearing in Cincinnati CityBeat, The Houston Press, Cleveland Scene, Cincinnati Magazine, Cincy Magazine, Atomic Ranch, and many more. Check out his podcast PF’s Tape Recorder available from Podbean or in iTunes.