Benjy Ferree calls our nation’s capital, a spot known for its punk history, his home. His debut album Leaving the Nest was recorded in part by Fugazi’s Brendan Canty, in fact, and Ferree even thanks Dischord in the liner notes. But this former Black Cat bartender plays nothing in the realm of post-hardcore, despite what these credentials might suggest. The painting of the feather-capped Robin Hood like figure on the front might give that away, but might even sway one further from the truth, bringing to mind Ren-Faire folk and baroque balladry. Rest assured, Joanna Newsom he ain’t. Ferree plays rock `n’ roll, plain and simple.
Ferree’s style is fun and vibrant, quirky and ramshackle. Though this guitar-wielding songsmith can hold his own when it comes to volume and power, most of the time he prefers a much more playful approach, layering on sing-songy melodies, whistling and glockenspiel on a breezy tune like “In the Countryside.” Ferree does step off the front porch and onto the stage with the garage-y, White Stripes like “Dog Killers!”, one of Leaving the Nest‘s most intensely rocking raveups. Ferree’s voice even sounds like Jack White’s, though not quite as weird.
A cover of Johnny Cash’s “A Little At a Time” finds Ferree taking yet another direction, clanging and twanging into fiddle-ridden country barn dances. Waltzing ballad “Private Honeymoon” is among the most gorgeous and tender tracks on the album, with piano, strings and Ferree’s Rufus Wainwright-like croon conjuring up a romantic and misty-eyed atmosphere, as well as a barroom singalong in the right company. And with George Harrison-like slide work on the title track, Ferree gets back to rocking out again on a track that’s both dynamic and immensely accessible.
If it appears that there’s some sort of pattern here, that being an extremely wide blanket Ferree casts over musical genres and styles, it’s because there is. Benjy isn’t the kind of artist that focuses all of his energy on creating a singular sound or narrow focus. He definitely has a style of his own, but within his whimsical, fun-loving scope, there are multitudes of variations. It may all be simple pop music, but on Leaving the Nest, Benjy Ferree proves just how diverse that simplicity can be.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.