Ben Ford-Davies: Papillon
It was the vocals that quickly drew me in to this CD. Ben Ford-Davies has a rich warm voice and unerring radar for a great melody; it’s a treat to hear vocal phrasing that adds feeling to melodies without twisting them into a tormented version of themselves. Unlike many modern day singers he respects the melody. This may be in part because he writes most of his songs.
And such fine songs. There isn’t a miss for me on this album (and that’s a rare thing). Every song has a melody, phrasing, lyrical touch or arrangement that is original, unexpected or quirky. All the tracks on Papillon are essentially love songs, or at least songs that explore the themes of loss of love and things unattainable. Ford-Davies is clearly a romantic, but far from starry-eyed. He adds strength to his tales of lost love and uncertainty with a growl or an assertive lyric – ‘I’ve got the wrong rhythm’, ‘I’m not your hero’, ‘Let me kneel for you’ – this is a writer comfortable with his own vulnerability and willing to face it, often with a paradoxical tension between emotional desperation and optimistic melody.
But these songs are not downers by any means. There are a couple that could be described as emotionally neutral, but most of the songs here have an uplifting positive feel. And given the frequent references to loss and yearning I find that really curious.
I don’t know if songs need to be put in a genre or category, but I’m not sure where this music sits. It’s most definitely acoustic music – based mostly around the guitar, but it’s not folk – though there are some obvious folk influences. Neither is it pop or rock music. It’s singer-songwriter music. Original acoustic and as such may struggle to find a large audience. But as BFD’s website offers his bio in German one assumes his reputation has already spread beyond these shores, and so it should.
Papillon exudes class. Ben Ford-Davies and his songs have it in spades. Add the rich textures of Rachel Johnston’s cello and the mood setting keyboards and backing vocals of Ronnie Taheny and you have an almost classical elegance. The acoustic percussion of Fabian Hevia also sets a gently rocking tone on occasion – I enjoyed the almost Latin feel of Just A Man.
Burning The Candle may be my standout for its harsh vocal edge and beautifully crafted dramatic pauses. This Road Together is the instantly memorable takeaway anthem that will have you singing along before the song is through. Still A Boy, the closest thing to a folk song on the album, features some beautiful lyrics (‘Time feeds upon my skin’) and the cello and picked guitar close is one of those moments of melting elegance. Right Time is the introspective singer-songwriter playing the piano at the back of the room late in the evening, and the final track, Papilio Ulysses, serves both as a fitting finale to this offering and a possible precursor to a new set of songs where Ford-Davies and friends will again invite us to ‘Drink to life and love and sharing’ as we listen to him singing and reaching for the unattainable. And if the melodies, substance and warmth of these songs are indicative of what’s to come I recommend you grab this CD, and join him on the next part of the journey.