B. Reel 2018
Through fogs of Armagh and far away: Irish troubadour’s travel to the depth of devotion and desperation.
Issuing albums for almost two decades now and touring internationally, Ben Reel has somehow managed to remain unseen by mass audiences his songs deserve – perhaps, because of the artist’s penchant for changing genre. This, his eighth full-length offering, should find the musician at home, both stylistically and geographically, which is why “Land Of Escape” feels so warm, if occasionally uncomfortable as any comeback can be, and such sincerity will win many a heart to make Reel a noticeable presence in many a household. Gently gripping the listener from the beginning, Ben’s tunes cut deep yet their hurting moments are often bittersweet.
True to its own title and returning the entire record’s title to its roots, opener “Landscapes” slowly emerges from a shimmering, and throbbing with expectancy, mist where mesmeric flute would meet optimistic electronica to lead to vocal uplift on the chorus as if to scale Reel’s route toward hazy, yet happy, reverie. It’s there, in the widescreen traditional panorama, that the harmonica-washed “Fields Of Dreams” is located, with Ben’s honeyed voice not only striving to get to the promised land but also asking the loved one for permission to join in on the journey, this unhurried chase, while the orchestral wave behind “Soldier Of Love” becomes simply irresistible once dramatic tide has ebbed and left the same vulnerable request on the shore. Yes, the chain of songs must amount to a concept here, with the stately “I See Paradise” – filled with retro croon and jazzy thrill – and the painful, piano-rippled “Fish Out Of Water” fleshing out the idea.
Gloom might be smeared too thickly over “Healing Hands” but its hymnal qualities are quite redeeming, giving “Some Mercy” a reason to unfurl communal reel into lighter conversation piece, so the playfully languorous, soulful “Misty Morning Rain” sees Ben engaged in a romantic duet with his wife Julieanne. Further down the line, the anxious pulse of “Drifting” reveals heavy riffs to contrast a spectral bossa nova lurking in “Suffer In Silence” and the acoustically laced “Paradise Found” whose meandering fiddle and soaring guitar have this heavenly edge that is the predominantly sad album’s saving grace. “Smouldering Simmering” is a suitably lucid finale, though, a number dissipating the mist for good and leaving the Armagh troubadour exposed to be finally praised. It’s time to stop the escape.