Ben Glover – The Emigrant
Ben Glover’s ‘The Emigrant’ should carry a Gloverment Health Warning. It should go something like this: may induce intense emotional reactions and leaky eyes. Episodes of extreme nostalgia have been recorded by some listeners, along with a sense of longing for people, places and things that exist only in the memory or mind, long since left behind.
If symptoms persist, go see Ben Glover live.
A mixture of traditional airs and new material, ‘The Emigrant’ is an outstanding treasure chest of intimate and insightful reflection – something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.
I came across a new word recently – Hiraeth – an old Welsh word for which there is no English translation, but which loosely means homesickness tinged with grief or sadness over the lost or departed.
That just about sums up ‘The Emigrant’. It aches – it collates all the moods of the sea that carries the artist away from beloved shores, scenery etched only in memory. Yet the collection is not without cunning and humour, both dark and light, reflecting the creativity and self-destructive soul of a wandering Celt.
Opening with ‘The Parting Glass’, a song which has its origins in eighteenth-century Scotland allegedly, since covered by the great and the good who can hold a tune (and many who can’t) – from Ronnie Drew to Ed Sheeran to Cara Dillon, no two versions are ever remotely the same.This is a tune that must claim the artist body and soul – and of course, it takes over Ben Glover; curls the toes and tingles the spine.
A Song of Home is Glover’s own, and a clear indicator of why the likes of Gretchen Peters, Mary Gauthier and Tony Kerr are keen to collaborate – but it is the title track which for me, shines the light on why Ben Glover may be one of the best songwriters to come out of this neck of the woods this century.
The curse of the emigrant, captured in music and verse with eloquence and melodic complexity – along with what I would call “Christmas chords” – that sound that makes you want to go home.
By now your tummy is tied up in knots – so time for a little light relief, in the form of ‘Moonshiner’; a folk song of disputed origins – so let’s just call it Irish-American for now. A nod to the wild rover, having spent all his money on whiskey and beer – set up his own still and discovered a self-destructive cash cow.
Clearly, Glover has selected the covers that speak loudest of the old homeland – that convey that spectrum of emotion that only an emigrant can fully know. ‘From Clare To Here’ speaks volumes, one of the most beautiful versions you will ever hear.
‘Heart In My Hand’ takes the tempo up a notch. It’s catchy with a sing-a-long chorus.
Keeping that link to the wild roving Irish man, ‘The Auld Triangle’, made famous by the likes of Luke Kelly, Ronnie Drew and even The Dropkick Murphys, yet attributed to one of the boldest, wildest, wisest of the genre, Brendan Behan.
Glover’s version of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ is haunting, with that voice of gravel and depth, it’s as emotive a rendition as it gets – as if Glover had been at Gallipoli himself. Powerful stuff for the year that’s in it. While broadening his potent theme from emigration to the futility of war, the insanity, destruction, displacement of peoples and the making of refugees, it begs the big question – what’s it all for, and I’d challenge you to get to the end of this one without welling up. If not, you have a heart of stone.
Of the six traditional covers on ‘The Emigrant’, the good wine comes last. If there’s an ache for home, there’s no poem more potent for a Glenarm man than ‘The Green Glens Of Antrim’. Without ever crossing that line to cloying sentimentality, this is delivered with grace, dignity, and honesty. The feeling is pure and genuine.
‘The Emigrant’s mix of traditional classics with outstanding new material provides a beautifully balanced mix – and widening both Glover’s appeal and potential market.
As Ben would say himself:
For the dreamers, for the strangers, for the pilgrims.
We say for anyone who ever had a heart that’s yearned for home.