Album Review: Ben Driscoll — Earthly Remains

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Doing due diligence on Ben Driscoll — whose name I know mostly from live performances on KUNI FM — I turned up an article from 2015 in the Cedar Rapids Gazette that calls him a “former musician” and describes his Cedar Rapids woodworking business. Lucky for us, news of his demise as a musician is greatly exaggerated.

Driscoll’s musical style drives right up the middle of the Americana/roots music street. His voice has just enough nasal edge to cut through the full band mix, but it’s on the whole a warm, relaxed baritone that comes off as conversational, even as it outlines well-wrought melodies.

His band (Brooks Strause: bass, Landon Strause: piano, Josh Carroll: drums and Randal Davis: guitar), which he calls the Endless Unseen Danger Band, have close to a century’s experience playing around Iowa, and you can hear it in these recordings. Nothing feels forced or tense. They have some of that Midwest, Jayhawks vibe — but if you’ve listened to the musical output of other Iowans, you can taste the gravel road dust in this music.

While people all over the country make music in the vicinity of Driscoll’s style, I think there’s something uniquely Iowan about his music; he has more in common with Will Whitmore, Thomas Comerford and Brooks Strause than with Nashville mainstays like Dave Rawlins or Jeff Tweedy.

“Thousand Dollar Man” stands out as a clever ode to Midwest modesty: “I’m a thousand dollar man/I drive a thousand dollar van/and doing the best that I can.” It’s a classic in the mode of Roger Miller’s songs like “Busted.” He sings “I lift my head up when I can,” which captures the way hard work weighs on a working man.

In an email after I’d heard the first couple songs on Earthly Remains, I told my editor, “This morning, this sounds like the best shit ever.” And if you give it a few listens, it will hit you that way, too. Not like it obscures the brilliance of Bach and Stravinsky, but in its own homemade, homespun way, it punches way above its weight.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 252.

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