Listening to The Bennett Brothers’ debut album, Not Made for Hire, is like taking a walk down Blues Boulevard in any U.S. city: It’s gritty and oozing authenticity.
It doesn’t matter which American city — it could be Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, Austin or the Bennetts’ hometown of New York. What matters is that this is heartfelt music rooted in the blues soil and tradition. And that is what the natives of the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn sought to and do convey through this new release: It is not so much listened to as it is felt.
“Listen to the CD and come see us live,” said Jimmy Bennett (guitars, lead vocals), “and you will see that the music is all connected with one element — and that’s the feel, which is part of jazz, country, blues, folk and rock music.”
This release sounds like it was recorded “live in the studio.” It features 11 songs, all written by Jimmy Bennett, spread over about 50 minutes. Jimmy and Peter Bennett (bass, vocals) are joined by New Jersey keyboard maestro John Ginty and Lee Falco (drums); ace producer Ben Elliott turned and twisted the knobs at his American Showplace Music studios in Dover.
The official release party is July 27 at The Falcon in Marlboro, N.Y. (due north of West Point). The Bennetts played at Maplewoodstock in Maplewood on July 14, and hope to return to New Jersey for a release party on this side of the Hudson.
“My brother, sister and lots of lifelong friends live in the Garden State,” Jimmy Bennett said. “I’ve played lots of shows (there), from the Stanhope House to The Stone Pony and all points in between. So this is a lifelong connection to N.J. — always has been and always will be. I’ve had some of the best experiences of my life in N.J.”
Multiple influences are felt throughout Not Made for Hire. Jimmy said he and his brother were influenced growing up by “Wes Montgomery to Jimi Hendrix, Les Paul to The Allman Brothers, Robert Johnson to Freddie King, to The Band and everything in between, and the blue notes connected through all that music. So, there was always a blues record nearby or on the turntable.”
Jimmy plays the rhythm, slide and lead-guitar parts with passion and skill. Peter lays down the foundation with his fluid and thumping bass. Falco — the “kid” in this band — adds the pop and hop on drums and Ginty swirls and whirls on his Hammond B-3 organ. And showing he can easily swivel to electric piano, the Morristown native adds bluesy solos and fills as needed (“Hold on Tight” as one example).
“It was a super fun and rewarding session for me,” Ginty said. “We went for such a big, aggressive sound, I actually blew up the studio’s Leslie cabinet during an organ solo! I never do that.”
The Bennetts and Ginty got to know each other through working with Alexis P. Suter, the blues belter from Brooklyn. The brothers connected with Suter at one of Levon Helm’s Rambles at his Helm’s home studio in Woodstock, N.Y. The Bennetts came to the attention of Helm after they played at a show with Rick Danko, bassist for The Band. Jimmy and Peter also have played with or shared the stage with B.B. King, Bo Diddley, Garth Hudson, Amy Helm, Hubert Sumlin, Johnnie Johnson, Little Sammy Davis and Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson.
Jimmy Bennett, through his writing, and the band, with its creative and inventive playing, prevent Not Made for Hire from lapsing into Generic Blues 101 most of the time. That’s not an easy thing to do for bands rooted in that genre. Bringing on Ginty, who tours with the Dixie Chicks, was smart move No. 1. He serves each song as it should be, always adding tasty touches without overdoing it. The Bernardsville resident has had Jimmy Bennett bring his guitar prowess to his recent recordings. This time, he returns the favor.
“When we spoke of doing the album, Ginty said he would like to overdub his parts,” Jimmy said. “But after doing eight or nine records with him and so many shows live, I convinced him to come record the record live so we could capture that magic. He brings a great sound and energy to the project.”
Jimmy Bennett is a more than capable vocalist, and at times sounds reminiscent of Robert Cray from his Strong Persuader days (think smoky, seductive vocals). Brother Peter and Falco, who has worked with Donald Fagen of Steely Dan fame, provide strong backing vocals that combine with Jimmy’s to give this a smooth, polished feel over the often-raucous music underpinning the songs. There are no whiskey-soaked, croaky voices here.
Linda Pino adds beautiful, sensual singing to “I Just Don’t Want the Blues Today.” She makes that song shine, and as such is part of the effort that keeps this album moving and the listener engaged.
The collection opens with “Junkyard Dog,” and the band comes flying out of the chute with this uptempo tune. Bennett plays searing leads on guitar, using effects at times, and Ginty gives the B-3 a workout. “Blues No. 9” is the album’s only instrumental, and starts with a crunchy, Stevie Ray Vaughan-style rhythm. Ginty later contributes at organ solo that would have made Gregg Allman proud.
The Bennett Brothers switch gears on “Rocking Chair.” It starts with a slow tempo, but soon the pedal is to the medal and it takes on a rockabilly feels from there. Ginty adds boogie-woogie on piano and Bennett goes to slide guitar for his leads.
Most of the songs have enough twists and turns, stops and starts and rhythm and tempo changes to keep things interesting. The album, while featuring at times classic, lyrical stories about love, relationship trouble, doubt and despair, rarely lapses into the same old blues.
It makes a listener wonder: If this is The Bennett Brothers’ debut album, what took them so long?
The second thought: Hopefully, they will keep it coming.
For information, visit thebennettbrothersband.com.
Tom Skevin is an award-winning journalist and music publicist who resides in Sussex County. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.