Published on December 6th, 2019 | by Alastair Gilmour0
Showaddywaddy’s loss, our gain
The Hammond organ and crashing guitar at the start of Tony Bengtsson’s latest album, West Elizabeth, set up a powerful piece of work (writes Simma Singer).
In a time when every genre is available at the tap of a finger, many artists flit from style to style and never seem to settle, Tony is firmly rooted in classic Americana and Country, complete with steel guitars, fiddles and heartbreak.
This is, however an undeniably contemporary album, tackling subjects like discrimination and austerity while never losing sight of its home. Tony is a forthrightly political writer. “There’s a lot more politics on this album,” he says. “The song This Little Country was a response to a UKIP councillor getting in in South Shields. Scary times. It’s scary times again right now. “
Anyone who has seen Tony Bengtsson live will immediately comment on his voice. He’s an absolute powerhouse as a vocalist which suits belters like I’ve Got A Friend and No Place.
He says: “I had to find a balance on the tracks where I was singing loud, between replicating a live performance and overpowering the studio microphones.”
What becomes apparent on record is that there’s a whole other side to his singing; deep and rich on Through Your Eyes and Sometimes A Man, it exudes honesty, smartly sidestepping the over-sentimentality that country music so often falls into. And he consciously decided to write some more laid-back songs for this album.
“I tend to write powerful songs,” he says, “but I was listening to Neal Casal, who’s sadly just passed away, and I thought I’d love to write something like that.” He wrote Through Your Eyes the same day.
The arrangements are unashamedly luscious and he’s surrounded himself with some outstanding players.
“It was so important to me to get the right people around me,” he says. The result is boundlessly listenable, and it’s very satisfying to hear songs that never outstay their welcome. In the spirit of early Country, these songs say what they have to say, and don’t hang around.
But how does a good ol’ boy from Shields end up being a Country artist anyway? It turns out it’s down to his late Dad. Listening to his old Country records had a profound influence on a young Tony.
“He liked Showaddywaddy as well, mind, but that didn’t seem to stick.” Lucky for him – and for us really.
West Elizabeth is out now on Boomchang Records; it’s available on digital platforms, but anyone splashing out on a CD copy will be treated to some beautiful cover art by the man himself.