Ben Somer is a gifted songwriter, a silver-tongued devil who shares his tales of love
and faith with soulful charm and witty despair. Although his songs have various angles
and attitudes, storytelling is always their essence and their aim – particularly on The
Last One, Ben’s new sophomore release. As cohesive as the legendary LPs of the seventies,
the shape of this album was as important to him as the sound. It is appropriate then that
The Last One has the feel of live playing: intricate but not over-produced, it is a
refreshingly human sounding album.
The Last One is a real departure from the 23 year old’s previous recordings, which were
self-produced in his own basement studio. This one came together in Toronto’s Rogue studio
with Les Cooper (the award-winning producer of Jill Barber and Meaghan Smith), where a who’s-
who cast of Canadian musicians invigorated the sessions, bringing new life to Somer’s folk
ballads. The new album is distinguished by its pithier themes. There are songs of carnal
conflict, but these love songs have been stripped of their sugarcoating and infused with a
hearty dose truthfulness. Candor and sincerity are as important to his sound as compressions
and rarefactions. His songs are soaked with whiskey, women and war, and often allude to
ambiguous signs of the divine. “Caught in the Fire” asks spiritual questions without presuming
to give any answers: “there’s been faith and there’s been truth, but they were both not truly
right”. One of those conflicting truths is “home”, another recurring theme. It was the title of
Ben’s first album and it appears in The Last One as a source of beauty as well as heartbreak.
It is also the source of his character. Ben might have been born in Dundas, Ontario, but he was
raised at the hockey rink, in the woods of the Haliburton highlands and on the pages of John
Irving. He’s been influenced as much by the cry of a lone loon as the cough of a drunken poet.
Intense and yet self-deprecating, Ben’s eyes gleam when he talks about the creative process.
His voice is as important to the process as the words and the melodies. He sings “Last Cigarette”
like a hollow-eyed troubadour, in a smoky haze which matches the title. The unstoppable intensity
of “Stiff Drinks and Hand Grenades” is juxtaposed by the rasp in “Lies in July” which plays a
poignant duet with the jangle of the banjo, giving us grace as well as gloom in each organic phrase.
The haunting echo in “Codeine” is quite a revelation and entirely appropriate for a song which finds
the last bit of humour in lost causes. The album ends in spectacular fashion, with “Tumbling pt. 3”,
where his raw throaty delivery, playing off the soft, undiluted electricity of his Gretsch, shows a
man who has been burnt by the flames of passion, rejection and ironic enchantment.
In “Lies in July”, Ben writes: “I made mistakes and I made more, but I got smarter every tour”. Well,
he also got bolder and better every album. The Last One demonstrates how far he has stepped out of his
comfort zone, both vocally and thematically. His writing blends a heart-wrenching earnestness with his
tongue-in-cheek wit, evoking comparisons to Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen. With the release of The Last
One, Ben hopes to step out of the shadows and claim his place as one of this country’s premier songwriters.