Published Sep 16, 2015Ben Caplan makes being haunted sound like a helluva good time on Birds With Broken Wings. The Halifax-based troubadour's new LP is rife with rattling offbeat percussion, creaking fiddle playing and spine-tingling nimble fretwork in the guitar parts. But nothing sounds more devilish on the LP than the songwriter's own voice, with which he howls and growls like an eternally damned scoundrel on many of the tracks.
Caplan's lyricism is chillingly bizarre throughout much of the album. On the title track, he hoarsely demands that he be brought "mounds of human hair" and that "all the trees get in single file." Those lyrics are complemented by the tune's instrumentation, which sounds like an incantation that mixes elements of Django Reinhardt and Tom Waits. Midway tunes "Dusk" and "I Got Me a Woman" will also raise listeners' eyebrows, what with the former's mariachi horns and the latter's fairly wholesome female accompaniment to Caplan's abrasive singing.
Then, after listening to a near album's worth of gravelly voiced singing, the biggest shock of all may come on the album's back end, when Caplan abruptly changes the tone and sings as smoothly as a lounge singer on "Lovers Waltz." The album's strengths lie in these unpredictable twists, during which Caplan demonstrates his originality.
Unfortunately, the singer-songwriter doesn't maintain that distinctive tone throughout the LP. On tracks like "Deliver Me," he leans too heavily on Waits' influence, hoarsely pontificating about St. Peter being on a smoke break. The same goes for "Belly of the Worm" and "Devil Town," which sound too akin to Waits' famed vaudevillian vibe. In the future, if Caplan can take on more of the risky, experimental twists that make "Dusk" and "I Got Me a Woman" so special, perhaps a host of younger artists will be moved to mimic his style with the same reverence that he has for Waits. (Coalition)