Hellfire

Ben Bostick

Simply Fantastic Music, 2018

http://www.benbostick.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/29/2018

Just a year after his very strong self-titled debut, LA-based “outsider country” singer-songwriter Ben Bostick is back with a collection that wastes no time declaring its intentions: this is music to raise hell by.

That said, if the above description sounds like a formula for a dozen party anthems full of Dad-pun-worthy punchlines set to paint-by-numbers poppy guitar hooks, then you have clearly been listening to too much mainstream country, which this most decidedly isn’t. Bostick’s Hellfire is down and dirty and ferociously dedicated to telling stories that dig deep into the agony and anger that drive this particular kind of alcohol-fueled misbehavior. Because it’s Bostick, it’s also full of sharp lines and incisive observations on the human condition, all set to muscular honky-tonk country-rock that’s hard-edged enough to knock Hank Williams’ whiskey glass clean off the bar.

“No Show Blues” is an old-school barroom stomper about a working man going on a bender: “I took a day off and then I took four more / Been drunk since I left, and chain-smokin’ Marlboros / And part of me thinks I ain’t ever gonna make it home.” The thing is, if you take this album as an 11-track whole, the narrator is right—he never does make it home, and the remaining 10 tracks are in the same vein, dominated by heavy numbers celebrating the darkness that drives men to self-destruct.

The title track is a dance-worthy singalong about a hardcore drinker’s spectacular fall into the gutter. A taste of the finger-snapping, hand-clapping second verse says it all: “Feelin’ sinful, needin’ grace / Sunday mornin’, knew the place / So I stumbled into church and sat down for a spell / A few minutes in, I felt free of sin / So I polished off my bottle of bathtub gin / And got stinkin’, dirty, awful drunk as hell / Yeah right there in the back pew I got drunk as hell… Hellfire, that’s where I’m bound.”my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“No Good Fool” adds organ and cowbell, with Bostick declaring “I’m not a bad boy, I’m a bad, bad man... You’re dancing with the devil when you dance with this no good fool” to a driving, surging, stormy rocker. About time for a weepy ballad, you might think… but not on this album. Instead, Bostick goes full-tilt barroom boogie with the double-time blowout “Blow Off Some Steam.”

When he does ease off the gas pedal, it’s for a clever mid-tempo lament; “It Ain’t Cheap Being Poor” declares Bostick as his band responds back with big, bellowing call-and-answer vocals. Once again, you’re back in the barroom, with beer on the floor and whiskey on the counter.

The second half of the album—as with Ben Bostick, the cover art divides the album into two parts, like a vinyl LP—never lets up. “Tornado” is as close as things get to lighthearted this time around, a witty, upbeat tune about a woman who completely blows up the narrator’s life, yet he still wants her (because that’s how it is sometimes). “The Other Side Of Wrong” is hard-charging, whip-smart and utterly unpretentious, not to mention burning with energy from start to finish. “So I’m sittin’ on this barstool in this dirty downtown bar / Drinkin’ up my money and pukin’ in the bathroom stall / A man of my disposition should steer clear of alcohol / But if I didn’t make bad decisions, I wouldn’t make no decisions at all.”

“Work, Sleep, Repeat” takes the basic approach of “Tornado” while shifting the subject matter, a working man’s lament that moves at a loping trot and occasionally brings a little Elvis whimsy into Bostick’s lead vocal. Meanwhile, the narrator of “How Much Lower Can I Go” is driven to drink by a lover’s betrayal, yet even then he’s insightful: “Even though I know it’s wrong / I wish my pain upon the world / I curse the lives of lucky men / And into this hell I hope they’re hurled.” And what happens after he lands headfirst in the gutter? Just the title of “Feeling Mean” tells the story; it’s all drinking and fighting and boiling-over anger from there as Bostick works his deep voice into a big, beefy Jim-Morrison-circa-“LA Woman” bellow.

The title and lyric to closer “The Outsider” make it feel like a theme song for Bostick’s whole artistic identity, but musically it’s the outlier here, a growling, thumping hard rock number with distorted vocals, an adrenalized blowout finish that feels disconnected from the traditional country roots of most of Bostick’s tunes.

Major kudos are due here to Bostick’s entire supporting cast, which includes Kyle Lalone (lead guitar, background vocals), Luke Miller (piano and organ), Perry Morris (drums), Cory Tramontelli (bass), and John Would (engineer and co-producer with Bostick); there isn’t a note out of place on this ribboned-with-energy album, and every tune is arranged and played with genuine fire.

Hellfire offers a darker, heavier, more tightly focused extrapolation of Ben Bostick’s self-titled debut, a rollicking primer on self-destruction set to a toe-tapping honky-tonk beat.

Rating: A-

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