Empire Music Hall, Belfast
24th March 2019

Benjamin Francis Leftwich is a frequent visitor to these parts and has attracted a full house of his growing base of fans. Bursting on to the scene in 2011 with the much loved ‘Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm’, his upward trajectory stalled somewhat, with his taking some time out to deal with personal issues. Accounting why this tour is in support of only his third album, ‘Gratitude’.

However, the fans are treated to a rather special evening of sublime music, listened with a reverential atmosphere. The support for the night is Rosie Carney. Based in Donegal, the young singer produced a delightful set of self-composed songs from her excellent debut album, ‘Bare’.

Having overcome her own battles, Rosie’s songs have a similar hue to the headliner. Songs of resilience and redemption, from a dark place. Despite her obvious nervousness, the crowd warm to her low warm voice backed only by her acoustic guitar and cello. The name is worth noting.

The audience is officially informed of the impending arrival of Benjamin Francis Leftwich by the stage going dark, and his full cover of Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ being played before he takes to the stage himself.

Starting with a cut from the new album, ‘Sometimes’, we are treated to a mix of songs old and new. The subject material is quiet and introspective, and the music matches it. For the most part, the electronica introduced to Ben’s musical palate, is absent and we left with just his wondrous voice, softly picked guitar and a little keyboard, and it is wonderful.

While the loudest applause is reserved for the older songs, ‘1904’, ‘Pictures’, and the affecting ‘Butterfly Culture’, the new material is of similar high quality, with ‘Look Ma’ a particular favourite.

Ben has been mentioned in the same breath as Iron and Wine and even Bon Iver. Live, in front of an audience, one can see why. Two songs, he sings on guitar at the edge of the stage and without amplification.

Up close, the effect is very personal and intimate. While he may not yet be a household name, tonight’s gig is an example of his increasing appeal. Some acts feed on word of mouth, and tonight will have done his reputation as an artist of some considerable talent, no harm at all.