Music Review: Benmont Tench – ‘You Should Be So Lucky’ (Blue Note Records)
Tench Debut Works But Only If Expectations Are Reasonable and Realistic.
“But I’ll know my song well before I start singing.” Bob Dylan (“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”)
Compared to the pop garbage my fitness club inundates me with every morning, longtime Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench’s debut album You Should Be So Lucky might as well be Highway 61 Revisited, Exile on Main Street, Born to Run or even Damn the Torpedoes. But, because I hold a classic rocker who supported one of my main men, Tom Petty, for so long – producing such terrific music – my standard for him is a bit higher. By this measure, his first solo effort falls – fairly or unfairly – a bit short.
For the most part, the album serves as enjoyable background music for a house party. There’s nothing striking, nor is there anything objectionable on the CD; in fact, some of the tunes that emanate from it are rather pleasant. They simply aren’t anything special.
Tench’s delivery is gravelly and reminiscent of a combination of influences, not the least of which is Petty himself (in fact, one of Petty’s biggest hits is “You Got Lucky”). Another influence is Dylan, with whom the Heartbreakers double-billed two major international tours in the late 80s. Tench’s enunciation is reminiscent of Dylan’s (specifically recalling “If You See Her, Say Hello”) on the first track, “Today I Took Your Picture Down.” This is my personal favorite on the album.
As for the second song, “Veronica Said,” I wasn’t sure whether Tench was channeling Lou Reed or Elvis Costello. I heard some of both, as well as a riff that is strangely similar to Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire.” The album includes two instrumental tracks (“Ecor Rouge” and “Wobbles”), which are not much more than placeholders, and many of the piano solos sound similar to those of Bruce Hornsby. It also includes two placeholder type covers of Dylan songs (“Corrina, Corrina” and “Duquesne Whistle”).
Many musicians have made a career of covering Dylan songs – most notably The Byrds, and it remains the case that Dylan’s originals are generally superior. Here, neither of Tench’s renditions have any distinguishing characteristics that make them worth listening to more than once. This is especially true of one of Dylan’s better recent works, “Duquesne Whistle.” Whereas Dylan’s guitar chords and swing style boogie-woogie the song forward so that it picks up momentum like a train’s steam engine, Tench’s take moves forward like a snail until it finally comes to an end. As for “Corrina, Corrina,” Dylan’s version features powerful vocals (yes, the man can actually sing) that strike an emotional chord in the listener against a pleasing backdrop. Tench merely mouths the words along to his piano accompaniment.
It appears as if Tench, a talented musician, is attempting to find his distinct voice, sound and style by experimenting with and/or playing tribute to his favorite influences. There is nothing wrong with this and, with some refinement, a second solo album could potentially be quite good. This one is just so-so.
Tench might not have quite “known his song,” but sometimes trial and error can lead to great discoveries.
Dave Moyer is an educator, sometime musician (he’s on-call to play drums for The Who, The E Street Band or The Rolling Stones), and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel