By Joe Viglione
An Interview with Singer/Songwriter Rob Benson
Plus CD Review: Under the Whispering Tree by Rob Benson
GOING TRACK BY TRACK
A Radio Show on Activatemedia.org Friday nights 8 pm hosted by yours truly
We’re talking to Rob Benson about his new CD Under the Whispering Tree, and before
we go track by track we’d like to ask, what was the first recording that you ever made, Robby?
RB Although writing songs since the mid 80s, I recorded my first studio album in 2004, featuring an original track called “Cold And Heartless,” for an album with the same name. This was with a former band called Doctor Son.
JV: How many songs have you recorded and released?
RB: I’ve written several hundred originals, but prior to this album, I only recorded and released a few albums, around 25 original tracks.
JV: When did you develop the idea for Under the Whispering Tree?
RB: I had written the song Under The Whispering Tree early in 2019, and decided I wanted to record an album by the same name. It was when I met Peter Calo that I decided to proceed with the concept with him.
JV: How did you meet your producer, Peter Calo?
RB: I was invited to a private concert in Connecticut where Peter was performing. I then went to another one of his shows in Connecticut a few months later, where he was kind enough to let me do a James Taylor song with him. Then at a third show of his I approached him about doing an album with me.
JV Tell us the story of “ Lay Your Money Down” – first track on the CD
RB: The Beatles have always been a huge influence on me, and I had developed the melody of this song based on that influence. Then I had heard about the Knights of the Round Table on a game show, and decided to go with that concept. Like, imagine the Knights of the Round Table playing a game of cards while they were discussing their next adventures.
JV: The album touches on many genres but at its core remains solid country pop, but not the corporate country
– that being said – where do you listen to music – on what radio stations or what internet platforms
and where do you see a song like I Need You 3:17 fitting in?
Rob Benson: I enjoy all types of music. I listen to any stations that play music i can relate to, that would include modern country, classic rock, even the oldies. I listen to a lot of Sirius XM. I think I Need You is a track that is fun, catchy, and probably a song people can relate to.
JV: What was the inspiration for “I’ll Take Care of You”
Rob Benson: Last year I joined a New Jersey based country band called Whiskey Crossing. I play bass guitar. I wrote I’ll Take Care Of You based on the love story of the guy and girl who created that band. She had gone through many rough situations, and he helped her through a lot of that, brought happiness into her life. I thought it was a nice story to write a song about.
JV: I like how “Amsterdam” hits the listener like a good commercial pop tune, how did you and
Rob Benson go through Rob’s music and choose the material?
Rob: I had a pretty solid idea of which songs I wanted to put on the album. I think there was only one song I suggested that Peter thought wouldn’t fit with the others. It was an easy task to come up with the tracks.
JV: Outlaws Want Money 3:53 would make a nice backdrop to a Western film…will the Western come
back into prominence and how would you approach a music supervisor with the idea?
Rob Benson: This was a fun one to do. Peter actually has partial credit on this one. I had originally written it as a slower, old country song, and he turned it into a faster, fun tune. I can definitely hear this song as a backdrop to a Western themed movie or concept. Its fun, its catchy, and Peter’s guitar work is amazing.
JV: Is “Someone Right for Me” something for any listener to relate to?
Rob Benson: I’m sure people come across someone who they feel would be perfect for them, and maybe they’re either not interested, or maybe they’re not even available. It’s a song of hope, that maybe someday they can finally make that connection.
JV: The final track “Under the Whispering Tree” wraps the album up in a definitive fashion,
did you decide from the beginning to make the title track last?
Rob Benson: I wasn’t sure at first whether to open with it, or end with it. But it became clear to me that it should end the album. The song discusses how, despite our past bad choices or good choices, we are where we are today because of those choices. And I felt like the song finished the album well, especially with Jon Dinklage’s beautiful violin.
JV: Any other thoughts I may have missed Peter, Rob?
Rob: Glory And Levi…this song is actually about a couple horses, something nobody would probably be able to figure out. I liked the idea of putting this song to an old bluesy style.
Thanks for participating in GOING TRACK BY TRACK
A CD review from Joe Viglione
Have you ever been to an A & R person’s office at a major record label? Often they would – and from years of experience I can generalize here- put the tape or CD on and listen for the first twenty seconds, if you’re that lucky. They want a song that grabs them from the intro and might (most often they do!) skip to the next track …and the next…and your lifetime of work gets a few minutes assessment. Like Decca showing the Beatles the door, or Bobby Hebb pushing the monster hit “Sunny” to publisher after publisher before landing his deal. It’s so common in the music industry, just ask Tom Scholz and the band Boston.
Opening track “Lay Your Money Down” has that aura that pulls you in immediately. It’s pop music with a trance-like keyboard and drum alongside guitar that punctuates songwriter/singer Rob Benson’s intriguing storytelling.
Track 6, “Amsterdam,” also has an irresistible tempo, and superb radio-friendly mix. It is one of my favorites of many on this album.
“I Need You” is not the famous song by America, but does display the talents of drummer Chris Marshak. All the musicians on this disc are world class and with Peter Calo’s sublime production and guiding hand Under the Whispering Tree is a compelling album with much to offer.
“I’ll Take Care of You” could be James Taylor gone country while “Glory and Levi” features the distinctive saxophone of Aaron Heick . It’s a throwback to ballads of the mid 1960’s with a contemporary feel featuring the smooth and sincere vocals of Benson encapsuled in Peter Calo’s lush production.
“My Angel Lady” is equally delicate and in stark contrast to the uptempo and pure country “Outlaws Want Money.” The times on these musical vignettes span from two and a half minutes to just under five, again precise and ready for radio with the content that delivers.
“Someone Right For Me” sounds like Alex Taylor, Kate Taylor, Liv Taylor AND James Taylor were sitting around helping Robby sketch this shortest song (2:29) out, and a cover from one of the premiere folk family of music of this would be probably considered an original by their respective fan base. Robby brings that early 1970s glory days of folk into 2020 without skipping a beat.
The title track, “Under the Whispering Tree” is the epic – longest production at 4:56 and it introduces itself like one of those Neil Young classics that brings us on a journey that begs you to hit “repeat.” This is my first introduction to Rob Benson’s music and with Calo on guitar, piano, vocals and mandolin, Johnny Dinklage on violin and the aforementioned Marshak and Heick on drums and saxophone respectively these cats effortlessly create a landscape for Benson’s voice and narratives. Choosing a single would be difficult with so much great and diverse material to pick from, but I would say “Amsterdam,” “Lay Your Money Down,” “Glory and Levi,” or even the main song, “Under the Whispering Tree.” Many genres are touched upon and all nine tracks work in their own way, perhaps for different formats.
• Lay Your Money Down 3:45
I Need You 3:17
I’ll Take Care of You 4:36
Glory and Levi 3:41
My Angel Lady
Rob Benson 2:36
Outlaws Want Money 3:53
Someone Right for Me 2:29
Under the Whispering Tree 4:56
Produced by Peter Calo, featuring the talents or Peter, Aaron Heick, Jonny Dinklage and Chris Marshak.