Garrin solo on the Salon stage
Garrin solo on the Salon stage
Interpreting the Grateful Dead
Interpreting the Grateful Dead
THE NUMBER ONE INDIE ROCKER OF 2005: Benfield's all-around talent includes a gift for beautiful songwriting on top of his prowess as a singer and musician."
-- Advocate Magazine
"Always contemplative and disarmingly matter-of-fact, Garrin's lyrics present a clean, pure line and a distilled, no-nonsense sensibility. Those same qualities cross over into the instrumental arrangements of his songs, which are quietly inclusive of many different styles, from '60s psychedelia to contemporary folk to subtle edges of hard rock and punk. With his pitch-perfect three-man band lending a variety of keys, strings, and drums, Benfield demonstrates throughout these 11 tracks just how well he can mine classic sounds. The disc's opener, a gentle melodic number called "The Loop," sets up its sturdy Western chords and rhythms beneath a shifting tide of personal changes ("No more filling pages with your youth.../ The look when you first loved has faded out of view"), then glides into the struggles of relationship progression in the Beatles-esque "What You Wanted to Hear." The CD's redemptive, late-night title cut shimmers through a wash of pensive guitar loops and scores a place among Garrin's best songs, both for its deeply romantic mood and its unadorned honesty: "Hey J, I thought I might find you up/ I know it's really late to call, but I need to fill my cup." Just as plainspoken and sincere, "Unwind" also eschews hidden meanings, instead describing the puzzle of love as "a fancy new kind of sailor's knot." And the lilting vibes of "Ugly" and "Light the Way" offer a stay against that puzzle's darker underside, emerging into longevity and hope.
-- Bay Windows Magazine
"Garrin Benfield is an intelligent pop, folk-rock songwriter who certainly deserves a wider audience. Benfield's warm voice and strong guitar work make this, his third full-length disc, a most satisfying work. He is joined by a fine trio. Benfield's well-written, self-penned material flows in a comfortable, unassuming manner. There is little flash on the surface, as the arrangements breathe on their own, but whether by electric or acoustic guitar, Benfield's excellent string work adds that extra star. Check out the Pink Floyd-inspired opener, "The Loop". Infectious."
-- Dirty Linen Magazine
"I could make this short and simple: go buy this CD. Listen to it daily. Now, I could leave it at that, but I feel like raving. This entire CD is wonderful. From the very opening notes, I fell in love with Garrin Benfield's sound. Benfield co-produced the CD and plays electric, acoustic, and baritone guitars, mandolin, and most of the bass parts. He also performs all of the vocals, with a voice both soothing and invigorating. This is all backing wonderfully written songs that beg you to sing along, all written by Benfield. Garrin says that he wanted to be more focused on this third CD, and "tried to create something that held together really well." I especially loved "The Loop", a stellar choice for an opening track, the gorgeous instrumental "Prelude", and the title track. Pick up Where Joy Kills Sorrow and buy a few copies for friends!"
-- Singer Magazine
This 11-track album is perfect when you want to wind down and chill. It’s what people outside of the Bay Area might think about us: light, easy going, stoned perhaps and likely non-confrontational. Benfield’s third full-length album Where Joy Kills Sorrow is a great listen, when you are in the aforementioned mellow mood. Grab some wine and cheese. Relax. I played this album on a rainy afternoon, and watched the drizzle peacefully fall on the concrete for 45 freakin’ minutes. The title track is excellent, and would work really well in a set that included Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” along with any James Taylor and Aimee Mann tune.
-- The Owl Mag
Garrin Benfield was one of the musicians listed in the Advocate's Top 10 Indie Artists of 2005. Benfield is a singer-songwriter in every sense of the term -- his music would definitely appeal to the Austin audience who love their guys-with-acoustic-guitars.His sound is a bit more mellow than Dylan Rice, and his influences go a bit further back. The arm of John Lennon stretches far on his 2004 album, Where Joy Kills Sorrow. "Don't Panic" is something of an unrepresentative track from that album. Benfield's songs have mostly sparse instrumentation, but this song goes all out. Even the break-down ending adds a bit of dischord to a mostly harmonious work.
Where Joy Kills Sorrow is the newest release from singer/songwriter Garrin Benfield. It is a studio-recorded set of Benfield's new tunes, most of which seem like personal statements about life and love. "The Loop" opens the CD with a lush melody and sweet lyrics. For this album, Benfield's band includes Garrin on vocals and guitars, Michael Rodriguez on keys and Russ Gold on drums, who floods the ear with full sounds that complement the compelling imagery. This tune, like many on the disc, seems radio friendly. All are under five minutes in length, which can be a good thing for getting Garrin's music heard by a larger audience. I could easily see some of his material being played on a national scale. The upbeat "What You Wanted To Hear" is another introspective number but played in a more cheerful tempo. Benfield demonstrates his guitar chops, and not only is he a fine singer, but he can really play lead guitar too - sort of like John Mayer but with a greater vocal range. The Beatles-esque "Answers" follows with another hopeful message, reminiscent in melody to "I'm So Tired." The catchy hook and lyrics of "Don't Panic" almost sound like an anthem written by a young Billy Joel in his more productive days. The title song "Where Joy Kills Sorrow" is an ode to a lover with a lovely sweet guitar lead accenting the melody. Additional bass player Joshua Zucker and background singer Adrienne Geren add a nice balance to "Unwind," a rather slow tune with minor key changes which add to the pensive mood. Changing things up a bit, "Prelude" is a pretty instrumental with an acoustic melody and electric guitar lead layered on top. "Ugly" is another of Garrin's personal musings about love. Compelling and thought provoking lyrics are again highlighted here. "Light the Way" is yet another slow ballad, but it's also optimistic in feeling. Beautiful piano by Michael Rodriguez complements Garrin's heartfelt voice when he sings "We're gonna find a way, love's gonna light the way." The final song "Be Love" is perhaps the best example of Garcia/Hunter-inspired imagery. Benfield again stays within the mood of the recording, pouring out personal statements of hope. So many bands today forget the importance of great songwriting. Garrin Benfield is a refreshing change from the norm as he crafts meaningful songs with potential mass appeal. Let's hope he gets more attention from this set of wonderfully personal tunes."
"There are only a few independent singer-songwriters who can boast the kind of accolades Garrin Benfield gets. He's been selected by Jambase.com as one of the "must see" artists of 2005, been a featured performer in various music festivals around the country, and played with the likes of Boz Scaggs. How does one get that kind of attention without record label muscle? By being good. Word of mouth is the strongest kind of promotion there is. It doesn't matter how much money a label puts into a project; if people aren't digging it, it goes nowhere. Benfield has been putting out his own CDs since 2000, steadily building up a loyal fan base nationwide with constant touring. His guitar playing is definitely first-rate, as evidenced on his fourth album, "Where Joy Kills Sorrow". He's got a bluesy, flowing style akin to David Gilmour, and some of his songs have that Pink Floyd quality to them, especially the instrumental track "Prelude". The songs share elements similar to the pop structures used by Crowded House and XTC. Benfield's confessional lyric style is clever and gives a bright side to the troubled relationship about which he sings..."
-- Frontiers Magazine
"Garrin Benfield's blues-edged guitar-pop has earned the S.F.-based singer/songwriter well deserved comparisons to Aimee Mann. His latest release, "Where Joy Kills Sorrow" (Zacksongs), employs a similar stirring, storyteller style and an unfettered intimacy that brings down the listener's guard, allowing them to feel the pain, uncertainty and Promise imbued in every lyric."
-- San Francisco Examiner
"Garrin Benfield found himself at that intersection of rock, folk and country and decided, "Why fuss over the road not taken? Take all three." His acoustic-borne ballads and earnest voice carry pop punch, as tracks like "What You Wanted to Hear" from his brand-new CD hook you right in a la American singers such as Michael Penn or Brits like those Beatles chaps.
-- Burlington Vermont Free Press
"By now, people have had it up to here with sensitive singer-songwriter types. But with his third studio album, San Francisco's Garrin Benfield makes a strong case for clearing space on the CD shelf for just one more. Yes, his songs are built around gentle acoustic guitars and sweet-tempered vocals, but his grand arrangements suggest Benfield's ambitions go far beyond a Thursday residency at the local coffeehouse. "What You Wanted to Hear" is a bit vintage Kinks, "Unwind" is all woozy Eric Carmen-inspired soft-rock. He even scores a point for including an instrumental number, "Prelude," that's not totally obnoxious. More like this, please.
-- San Francisco Chronicle
"Aahh, a brilliant Brit-esque sort of Rhett Miller sound; somewhat bluesy, and a little rock-n-roll. Benfield exudes a mature sound, with a voice that borders on soft and dark. Amped up with some great bass lines, Benfield crosses genres with the edgy "Don't Panic" and tones it down with the finger-picked gem, "Be Love." In "Ugly" he sings, "Now dear let's not lose the only thing we got/We talked, sometimes listened/But we don't give it up like we used to." Such a professional sound and craftsmanship so pristine will give this guy the leg up to kick off his national tour with success. Recommended listening: great writing music. Favorite Tracks: Be Love, Where Joy Kills Sorrow. Rating: 4 stars.
"Benfield has spent four years honing his guitar playing on tour with Boz Scaggs, and his fourth CD (and second this year) is a tasty collection of 11 midtempo folk rock songs. Benfield takes his guitar out to play on "Prelude", but he's got plenty of other tricks - a smooth voice, a knack for twisting a lyric, and strong support from longtime collaborator and keyboardist Michael Rodriguez."
-- The Advocate
While I certainly respected what Garrin Benfield did on his first two full-length discs, I wasn't completely sold. That has all changed with his amazing third album Where Joy Kills Sorrow (Zack Songs). Not that Benfield's previous albums were inaccessible, but Where Joy Kills Sorrow has a freshness and originality that makes it a whole different listening experience. A Beatles influence can be felt strongly throughout, on "Answers" and "What You Wanted To Hear," for instance, which works in BenfieldÕs favor. "Unwind" is a jazz-tinged number that shows the influence that Boz Scaggs has had on Benfield, while the beautiful "Ugly" should be required listening for bickering couples.
-- Greg Shapiro, Chicago Free Press
"Garrin Benfield brings with him a version of acoustic rock often heard on undergraduate front porches around a couple of Newcastles on a Friday afternoon. His vocals soothe the mind like an old glove. "Where Joy Kills Sorrow", the title track, brings the entire new album to a gentle halt, relying primarily on Benfield's ability to caress his listeners with his voice as he sings the beautiful chorus...This is the perfect addition to any collection of college chill rock and will sit well with any fan of singer-songwriters."
-- Binghamton NY Pipe Dream
"Garrin Benfield seems determined to take his songwriting into the pop realm. He may just make it, based on his latest album, "Where Joy Kills Sorrow", which he's released on his own Zacksongs Music label. But in an age of sugar pop, boy bands, R&B screeching and Madonna wannabees, he's facing an uphill challenge.
For the last several years, as Benfield has made his mark on the San Francisco indie music scene, he's crafted gorgeous ballads that delve into love and heartbreak, delivered with the soul of a Country Western artist, though up to now he's been an urban folk singer. He's still urban, but finally he's moving beyond the folk genre, crafting a more commercial, mainstream product. His musicianship is masterful, which helps. His guitar playing is unrivaled, yet he avoids pyrotechnics, preferring not to show off, though in fact he could soar on an exclusively instrumental album if he wanted. Now he's incorporating electronic loops, synthesized sounds, distortions and other tricks to flesh out his sound, the way the masterful New York-based singer/songwriter Joseph Arthur does, though less ostentatiously. The point of his songs, though, is the heart -- how often it's been pierced, and how much it needs mending. Will this take him into the big time? Maybe not, but it will endear him further to his already huge fan base, now spread across North America.
The title song, "Where Joy Kills Sorrow", a down-tempo number with an air of yearning, includes the refrain: "take me tomorrow / where joy kills sorrow / tell me you'll understand / so i might sleep." With his seductive voice, so soft and cuddly and winsome, he has always taken listeners into his private realm of relationships, and his albums are always roller coaster rides of highs and lows. Benfield seems to be sending messages to his lovers through his songs. He seems dependent on his lovers for inspiration, and clearly there are knots in his relationships, which is what these songs are all about. At times he's optimistic, as in *Light the Way*, when he sings "we're gonna greet the day / when we smile brightly / hand in hand, arm in arm / we'll go away." But the very tone of his voice, the plaintiveness, speaks to an inherent pessimism. He's processing, still looking for his Oz, yearning for that place where love will triumph and difficulties will fall away. Maybe one day he'll make it, he and his lover, but the love he sings of speaks more to the past than the future: "we're gonna find a way / not to destroy ourselves / and we're gonna find a way / to redeem ourselves this time." It's really a song about ache, rather than a bright light illuminating the path to bliss. Benfield's entire body of work -- "Where Joy Kills Sorrow" is his fourth album -- runs along a continuum of heartfelt emotions. Listen to these albums closely and you'll have to conclude Benfield's entire journey through life is about finding solid emotional ground to stand on in relationship to his lovers. As of yet, that stability has eluded him, so he keeps plugging along. He's refined his talents to the extent you don't really notice he's in a rut of relationships, because the music is so dreamy and carries you off on floating riffs. But true happiness seems to elude Benfield. The struggle to find unconditional, lasting love dominates his life and creativity. Maybe he's a masochist, needing heartbreak to create. What makes this album more pop than Benfield's previous efforts are the technical aspects of the production. The guitar still dominates, but it's neither the plucky folk instrument of his first two albums, nor the soaring, experimental jam-band device of last year's "August Live". He keeps it in check, doing service to the songs without trying to show off. The songs are tighter, sharper focused, and the guitars defer to the vocals and never try to dominate long-time collaborator Michael Rodriguez' piano. Benfield plays acoustic and electric guitars, sometimes both in the same tracks, one layered over another. Joshua Zucker, another long-time music partner, plucks the stand-up bass, and Russ Gold handles the drums. They've been working together for a long time, and that familiarity with one another shows. There's a distinctiveness to the sound that was in its infancy on earlier albums. Now each sound pops out in catchy ways. The folk flavor is gone, and they've latched onto a recipe for landing air time on radio stations. The engineering and mixing by Rodriguez, a long-time Boz Scaggs collaborator, may ultimately be what gives these songs a commercial boost. More than ever, he seems to be in control of the product, and has learned a lot over the course of their working relationship. Broadcaster and venue bookers respond best to artists in full control of their material. They like youth and insecurity and broken hearts and all, but they also like tight productions. Benfield has all that, and "Where Joy Kills Sorrow" may well put him on a path that will take him to that safe, loving, secure emotional haven he seeks."
-- Bay Area Reporter