It takes a refined musical ear to make a cover song sound good, to take someone’s work and pick out the parts that speak to you and make it your own, all the while doing the original song justice. The task becomes especially difficult when the songs are by artists who define your musical tastes and are your major musical influences. A project of this caliber is not a challenge to be taken lightly. However, this is exactly what Ben O’Neill does in his 14 month long project called “Songwriter Sessions”, which is a celebration of the roots of American music. In my humble musical opinion, these are some of the best covers I have ever heard.
During a free show at the Kimmel Center this past Wednesday, the dapper Ben O’Neill brought his Songwriter Sessions to life, with the help of some of the talented musicians from the University of the Arts. Though all of his covers are beautifully crafted renditions from his favorite American song writers, I must say I was personally impressed by his covers of Tom Waits and Tracy Chapman. To me, a cover song should enhance a facet of the song not previously recognized when performed by the original artist. Last night during the performance of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car”, it became clear to me how deep that song actually is lyrically, and gave me a newfound respect for the song that I previously did not have.
Considering his choices for covers, it is clear that Ben has a passion for both originality and quality. These passions are also evident in his own solo work. His 2012 album Ghosts and Green Shoots can be best described as country meets rock and roll, and definitely reflects the musical influences from his life. A personal favorite of mine from this album happens to be “Red Blood, Blue River”, which is a fantastic conglomeration of sounds in a time signature that I cannot figure out. This album is available on iTunes, and well worth the money.
In a world of current music where auto-tune reigns supreme and lyric quality falls by the way side, Ben strives to understand the roots of his favorite music and give it new life. Go support this artist in any way you can!
Ben plans to release a new EP in the near future, and details can be found on his website. To check out his Songwriter Sessions, go to his YouTube channel. To read his latest interview, check out RockOnPhilly. And to catch his guitar work live, check him out while he is on tour with Jill Scott.