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Garrin Benfield with Gratefully Yours
Interpreting the Grateful Dead
The following are excerpts from reviews of Garrin Benfield's CD, "Nowhere is Brighter":
What makes Nowhere is Brighter such a unique listen, is that it feels like a continous mood album - it’s almost a brand of folk jazz…. if there is such a thing. Benfield’s extraordinary range is displayed in the title track, while "Lonely Journey" shows how Benfield can play with a bit of country twang while delivering his "lonesome" howls with legitimacy. There is quite a bit to digest within this collection. Either way, Nowhere is Brighter is all about the mood, and it’s quite a easy-going vibe for an artist you’ll soon be hearing a lot more about".
-- Glide Magazine, 9/1/03
Forget that Boz Scaggs contributes some guitar to this record. Forget that members of Ani DiFranco and Bonnie Raitt's bands as well as Counting Crows (Charlie Gillingham) are here. San Francisco artist Garrin Benfield's Nowhere Is Brighter is a lush, warm, intelligent record that stands on its own without the crutches of famous names. Benfield has crafted an album replete with complex textures of both sound and lyric. The easy pace of his phrasing and his slurring melodies are reminiscent of Live's Ed Kowalczyk and sit comfortably over thick, grooving mid-tempo tracks with flair and soul, like the sexy opener "Hungry Ghost." Definitely an artist to watch, Benfield has the wits of a troubadour and the charm of a rock star.
-- Performing Songwriter, Feb. 2003
" From the melodramatic, late-night underworld of San Francisco to the Gothic back-country roads of Rural Kentucky, we recognize the desires and resignations of the characters Benfield writes about. And despite the fact that the acoustic guitar is his primary instrument, he plays rock n' roll on it with the tenacity and boldness of a Fender Strat ...on the verge of something big.
-- San Francisco Examiner
On his second album, he conjures a dreamy, smouldering, sophisticated recordŠ this is music meant for twilight, a relaxing, thought-provoking and highly listenable effort that should find a ready audience among fans of the next wave of singer/songwriters."
-- DIY Reporter
With hard-hitting rhythms and bluesy lyricism, the suite of songs features a notable cast of players including Boz Scaggs backing the convincing Benfield."
-- Music Connection Magazine
An evocative yet restrained appraoch...expressive guitar work and mellow, inrospective vibe. Benfield's subject matter is steeped in an intelligent curiosity and an alluring sweetness. Benfield's arrangements, though intricate, also have the sound of traditional, pared-down simplicity, and that's how the pieces gather their quiet power. "To Know" layers driving acoustics with Ani Difranco keyboardist Julie Wolfs' soaring harmonies and organ notes. The result is as gorgeous as almost everything else on Garrin's impressive sophmore disc. (9 out of 10)
-- Bay Windows, (Boston) 9/18/03
Questions not answers. The most adept writers know that this is where the attraction and meaning between artist and audience, bewteen art and interpreter exists. It's where a listener learns to identify with a song and interpret a personal text.
On his second release, Nowhere is Brighter, Garrin Benfield shines in this field. Through an organic, serious and simmering brand of rock that dabbles in folk and blues, Benfield asks the questions he can't answer and finds an audience in the process. "This record definitely represents a period in my life," Benfield says. "Being in transition in my relationships and also asking more questions than necessarily having answers. That's a big part of the lyrical content here. I'm asking alot of questions aloud and hoping that other people are wondering the same thing.
With excellent engineer Michael Rodriguez (Boz Scaggs, Jallen Rix) at the production helm and a crew of guest musicians (including members of Bonnie Raitt and Ani DiFranco's bands, Counting Crows' Charlie Gillingham and Boz Scaggs himself), Benfield has crafted a standout set both sonically and lyrically.
Scaggs' smoldering solo on "The Sense that I Get" was a particular delight. "I had this bluesy tune and thought it would be great If I could get him to play guitar on it. Of course, he just came in, sat down in front of the board and played that solo and that was it. Just one take. He's underrated as a guitar player, I think. He's got the blues vocabulary for sure.
The halting, brooding title track exemplifies Benfield's open-ended approach to his lyrical message and gives the listener a peek into his and Rodriguez's recording process. "That one had a strange evolution. I never considered it finished," he says.
" I had this little fragment and I brought it in. With the phrase 'Nowhere is brighter than here,' I was trying to express an optimistic idea: that it couldn't be any better than where I am. But Michael said, 'God, that is so damn depressing. If that's your happiest tune...' So the reason I ended up using it for the title of the record is because there's that tension there where you interpret that phrase.
As a lyricist, Benfield is confrontational and unflinchingly honest. This from-the-gut approach is set up perfectly by the smoldering opener "Hungry Ghost". "That phrase is a Buddhist idea," he explains. "It's a realm that, karmically, one can be reborn into where you can't find any fulfillment or happiness at all. It's depicted with these horribly mutilated creatures that are walking around hungry with these bloated bellies and it's really a gory hell realm. So I thought, 'Wow that's a pretty striking image,' and saw a correlation between that and this culture we live in where we're never satisfied and always consuming and wanting the next thing. Again, I don't want to pass too much judgement -- hopefully, it's more just observation." ¨
-- Performing Songwriter Magazine, August 2003
"Nowhere is Brighter opens with the funky 'Hungry Ghost' and moves into two pretty and contrasting ballads, 'What to Listen For' and 'Lonely Journey'. Benfield seems to have no impediments genre-wise, let's call it a polished contemporary folk sound with broad parameters. 3 1/2 stars (Worth your best friend's beer money)."
-- Montreal Hour, 10/23/03
"A hot-rockin' guitarist."
-- Just Out, Portland OR, 9/5/03
"Groovy Benfield entertains the crowds with an honest, soulful style, gently percolating rhythms, and a poignant outlook."
-- Eugene Weekly, 9/11/03
"To hear Benfield is to rise above petty cares, to float dreamily on the waves of his voice, sweetly seductive even as it cries of loneliness. That voice's distinctive, plaintive quality is what draws people into Benfield's musical world"
¨-- Bay Area Reporter
"crisp melodies and precise lyrics in the three - to four-minute pop format that [Benfield] finds so comfortable. a musically and lyrically deep record from a performer with a lot on his mind".
-- Joe Viglione, All Music Guide
"Benfield's music is filled with passionate emotion, tales both painful and uplifting are conveyed with a style and spirit rarely found in contemporary young performers. He's incredibly talented...¨
-- David Ortmann, QSF
"His voice has a combination of plaintive, vulnerable sweetness and genuine strength that draws you in. He's a fine guitarist. This disc rocks....a definite winner"
-- Jason Serinus, We The People
"Borrowing musicians from Bonnie Raitt's posse, Benfield performs soothing, bluesy pop..."
-- San Francisco Chronicle
"While he draws most of his material from his own life and emotions, some of his best writing is found in his more narrative, third-person material. On Nowhere Is Brighter, this includes the track "Davey" which stands out as not only one of Benfield's best, but one of the best tracks I've heard by any contemporary singer/songwriter in a while. Competing with "Davey" for my vote as the best of a very good batch of songs is the Scaggs-enhanced blues "The Sense That I Get." Others may disagree with my choices, but only because the competition is intense. This is the good stuff."
-- Shaun Dale, Cosmik Debris
"Benfield is a talented musician and his two sides - the layered musicality of a polished CD versus the simplicity of a man and his guitar..."
-- Julia Park, Alameda Sun