The Rascal Is Back

Ben Bostick

Simply Fantastic Music, 2023

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


The title of Georgia-based singer-songwriter Ben Bostick’s fifth album The Rascal Is Back is as on point and multi-layered as any one of the man’s songs. You can’t be “back” unless you’ve been somewhere else, which is surely true in this case. As for the rascally part, we’ll get to that in a minute.

After several years of both artful and playful song-smithery in the Chris Stapleton / Johnny Cash outsider-country vein—including 2015’s My Country EP and the self-titled (2017) and Hellfire (2018) albums—at the end of the decade Bostick’s writing took a more introspective turn with Among The Faceless Crowd (2020). The acoustic country-folk leanings of the latter then became the musical starting line for 2021’s Grown Up Love, a cathartic album of heartfelt love songs for his wife and daughters that was composed and recorded after his older daughter’s diagnosis with Rett Syndrome.

Grown Up Love was and is exceptional, but even within the distinct sonic and emotional environment it inhabited, Bostick found space to encourage his audience to seize the moment and remember the good things in life. That desire surely won the day when it came time to record his next album, because The Rascal Is Back is a hoot and a half, a rambunctious album full of familiar honky-tonk tropes turned inside out and upside down, and so many winks at the audience you’re surprised the man can make out the frets on his guitar.

The kickoff title track announces this attitude from its “Ready—charge!” opening fanfare. It’s Bostick with the sass turned up to eleven, narrating the tale of a domesticated suburban dad who “traded my Harley for a Kia” but wakes up one day craving his old life of drinking and carousing. As always, the music—a giddy Nashvillian romp—fits the subject matter like a glove, but it’s the clever precision of the details Bostick weaves into his lyric that make the song; who else on the planet would rhyme “fanny pack” with “cul-de-sac”? Knowing what the last couple of years have been like in real life and where that took Bostick’s music, “The Rascal Is Back” delivers a genuine sense of uplift, the special kind of release that only laughter can bring. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“You Can Leave In The Morning” dials back the music for a swaying acoustic campfire singalong, shining a spotlight on a different kind of rascal, a flirty good ol’ boy whose imprecations serve as a reminder that one of the things Bostick does so well is to fully inhabit the characters who narrate his songs; he doesn’t just sing about them, he becomes them. It’s a different tenor of performance than the heartfelt, authentic voice heard on Grown Up Love; here he’s reveling in the chance to don the hats and boots of larger-than-life characters who are most definitely not him.

Just when you’re wondering if he’s left that introspective vibe behind entirely, though, up pops the fascinating construction “My Sister & Me”—a Mellencamp-ish anthem about family dysfunction and its aftermath. There’s a real resonance and insight to the lyric he has chosen to set to music that’s deceptively simple and familiar. The heartland rock vibe continues with the thumping “Big Train,” the one tune here that feels a little obvious, though it does offer a nice showcase for Bostick’s prodigious vocal range.

Next up, the sass returns as our narrator declares he doesn’t need to be rich, he just doesn’t want to be “Po’ No’ Mo’”; it’s a playful approach to a serious topic, a novelty with a conscience. The narrator of “I Don’t Care” doesn’t possess that level of insight or empathy; he’s a pridefully self-declared “dumb one” living off his unemployment check. The song’s chunky electric chords again suggest Mellencamp, but any question about how seriously we’re supposed to take this particular narrator are resolved by the ridiculous “oi-oi-oi-oi” cry that Bostick adds; he’s definitely pulling our leg.

Bostick has even more fun with “Strange Duck,” where he turns that simple phrase into an entire philosophy of life while throwing down choice phrases like “frittering away your sympathy” and “I don’t give a quack.” A couple of fairly straight-up heartland rockers figure in the late going. The opening bars of upbeat love song “Iowa Girl” offer a strong nod to Springsteen’s “The Promised Land,” while a little later “Burning Down The Road” leans into the electric riffage for a highway song.

In between, Bostick expends a ton of energy pleading with his ex to “Come Back Home To Me,” having fun with the character’s pathetic edge and giving the song a rockabilly feel that comes complete with handclaps and call-and-answer vocals. At the very end, closer “I Remember Easy Street” finds Bostick back in his familiar acoustic setting, feeling nostalgic about the way things used to be—or at least a rose-tinted vision of the past that he gradually acknowledges wasn’t real, in typically subversive style.

Life throws us a lot of curveballs, and often the real test is not the hurdles we encounter along the way, but how we react to them—which is, after all, the only thing about those kinds of situations that we can control. After navigating an especially rough stretch of road, on The Rascal Is Back Ben Bostick renews the sly, self-aware sense of humor that animated many of his finest early songs on an album rich with sharp-eyed insights and life-affirming laughter. Welcome back.

Rating: A-

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