Marc Benno’s been around for quite some time. He’s a fine musician and a qualified chef. One would think that the latter would lead to wiser choices …
A good recipe depends on the ingredients. There are some good ones here, to be sure. The rhythm section, Jack Barber on bass with George Rains, an absolute master of the Texas shuffle, on drums – is as good as it gets. A fine horn section is present when needed, and there are bits of organ and piano here and there as appropriate, with everyone involved contributing thoroughly satisfying performances.
Benno’s a fine guitarist, delivering sharp, stinging leads and easy-going propulsive rhythm with aplomb. He wrote all the material, two with help from songwriter extraordinaire Gary Nicholson, and while there aren’t any surprises, he’s borrowing from classic forms, with shuffles and twelve-bar grinders dominating the playlist, so there are no issues with the music itself.
But the one critical ingredient that spoils the recipe is Benno’s weak vocals. He’s simply not convincing, with a voice that fails to convey conviction and phrasing that all too often sounds either tentative or simply awkward. Even when his voice distorted he lacks that dangerous edge that makes an otherwise so-so shuffle something special.
There are lots of discs out there that mine similar musical territory, and no shortage of guitar slingers who can deliver the goods as well as Benno. What’s needed, then, is a strong voice to render Benno’s music distinctive. One would think, as both seasoned musician and experienced chef, that he’d know his own vocals aren’t right for the recipe. What comes out is a bland stew rather than a zesty and memorable meal. This recipe needs more spice.