Back in 2017 I interviewed Ben Bostick, the LA-Based, South Carolinian-raised Outsider country artist about his then new album, the eponymous Ben Bostick. No Depression described Ben’s performance on that album as coming on “like an unholy alliance of George Jones and Merle Haggard”; praise enough for any man, but I was convinced that Bostick might be capable of something even more incendiary, something to warn people about. It turns out I was right, so please take this review in the way it is meant, as a warning to impressionable minds and those of a fragile disposition. We wouldn’t want to offend anybody now, would we. Hellfire, Bostick’s new album, to be released at the end of June, gives us a glimpse of where he likes to venture with his music, down dark alleys full of human wreckage, to solicit or commit carnal musical acts.
The songs on Hellfire have been tried and tested by Bostick over the last year, using his band’s residency at a downtown LA bar, The Escondite, as the perfect opportunity to road-test new material. By the time the band went into the studio to record with John Would (Warren Zevon, Wanda Jackson), they were able to record the album live, sitting in a circle with just stage monitors to hear Bostick's vocals. Producer Would had extensively mic’d up the room, giving the recording an immediacy and energy that is at once primal and infections. The album opens with Bostick’s strained vocal searing out of the speaker, the sound of a man in pain; “I’ve got a job in the valley but today I didn’t go”, the story start, “I’m gonna go to the bank and cash out my account, drive straight to the tavern and drink a disgusting amount”. We know how you feel, Ben. Dirty rock and roll ensues, with a touch of Credence twang leading to some blistering guitar work (Kyle LaLone), building to a crescendo as Bostick’s story kicks back in with a flourish of Jerry Lee-style honky tonk piano (Luke Miller). The title track, Hellfire, plays next, opening with a dash of Burton-ish chicken pickin’ guitar, and before you know it Bostik’s getting drunk as hell again, this time on a bath tub of gin. The third track in, No Good Fool, uses the piano to full effect, barrel house boogie full of funky swagger, you can expect to be hearing it in our Whiskey Preachin DJ sets from now on.
The pressure keeps building as Bostick and the band crank up the tempo with Blow of Some Steam, coming on like a train wreck waiting to happen, good luck keeping up with this one on the dancefloor as Bostick declares he’s a Jim Beam drinking, Paycheck singing, dancing machine… Hell yeah! The tempo drops for the outsider’s lament on modern living, It Ain’t Cheap Being Poor, sounding like a hungry Rusty Weir desperately in need of a good cobbler. Tornado sounds like JJ Cale playing at a hoedown, The Other Side of Wrong combines a dash of Diddley with a flourish of that Jerry Lee piano, allowing Bostic to wallow in his righteously outlaw lyrics; “If I didn’t make bad decisions, I wouldn’t make no decisions at all”. Work, Sleep, Repeat gives us a little respite from the frantic boogie woogie onslaught, but that doesn’t mean it’s not packed with Bostick’s gravely grow and lashings of swagger, like Jim Morrison spliced and diced with Howlin’ Wolf; “Tonight I’m gonna drink like daddy does”. The Outsider closes out the album with the most straight-up rock track of the set, albeit one channelling a Jon Lord-style organ groove (, something we at Whiskey Preachin have always been partial to.
I asked Ben a few questions about his Hellfire, here’s what he had to say:
What has led you to the darker sound on this album? I wrote dozens of songs in the year leading up to recording this album, usually about one per week. I would bring the songs into the band for our Sunday night residency, and sometimes they would work right away and sometimes it was clear I had penned a real stinker. When it came time to record the album, I chose songs that all seemed to fit thematically, all from one perspective. I can’t say that I consciously wrote a darker album, so maybe the darkness had me without me knowing it. I’ve become more interested in writing albums than writing songs recently, so this is a baby step in the direction of putting together a fully cohesive album.
Any records you’ve been listening to that have influenced you in this direction? Honestly, not really. I try not to be influenced by records I’m listening to, because I just wind up copying the stuff I like. I was in a hardcore jazz listening period during the year I wrote this. Lots of hard bop, lots of Coltrane and Miles Davis. I was obsessed with forming a kind of improvised music that incorporated Americana elements with true musical freedom. Something that sounds like Astral Weeks, but less composed. I haven’t gotten around to trying any of those ideas yet. I was also listening to a lot of Springsteen. I don’t know why the songs that emerged are the way they are. Probably has more to do with me subconsciously writing for the venues I play. I’m not pandering to the crowd, per se, as much as seeing if I can whip them into a frenzy. That’s the Springsteen thing rearing its head. My next album is very Springsteen influenced.
Have you got a personal favorite from this album? I love them all, but my current favorite is “No Show Blues.” I think the recording of that song turned out just right. Just shot a music video for that one, too.
So, ladies and gentlemen, we give you Ben Bostick’s Hellfire, an album to show love and respect, especially at 4am when you stagger in form a heavy night on the town. If you find yourself in LA, see if you can catch one of the band’s live performances, or perhaps catch Ben spinning tunes at Shoo Shoo Baby, an LA bar that looks like something out of a Raymond Chandler novel. If you can play records in bars that look this good, I’m gonna move to California and see if Hollywood will have me.