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Benjy Ferree Come Back to the Five and Dime Bobby Dee, Bobby Dee Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

A flouncing, flawed concept album of huge ambition from a fearless talent.

Chris Roberts 2009

Ferree, a Maryland-born, Washington DC-based singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist, re-emerges with an extraordinary follow-up to his relatively low-key Domino debut of 2006, Leaving the Nest. This is – and there’s no easy way of breaking this to you – a concept album. Not just in the sense that the songs all spin off a shared subject matter, but also in that it’s big, florid, colourful and dramatic. You listen to it half-expecting badly-scaled models of Stonehenge to descend from the rafters, amid an unabashed display of jazz hands. It makes Rufus Wainwright sound shy and retiring, and one imagines Bob Fosse is cursing in his grave that he’s not around to choreograph the Broadway musical.

And it’s great. Ferree cannot be accused of being backwards in coming forward, and wears his theatricality loud and proud. So diverse and excessive is this unwieldy, awkwardly-titled beast that it shines an unforgiving spotlight on the innate conservatism of much contemporary music. ‘Indie’ it is not. ‘Seventies’, perhaps, with that likeable strain of near-insanity that made prime Bowie, Queen and Prince stand out from the crowd. It’s not in their league – let’s not get carried away – but it’s a sign of a talent who probably doesn’t know what fear means.

So, the “concept”: it’s a tribute to the lost souls eaten up and spat out by youthful fame. Its hook is the life of Bobby Driscoll, the 50s child star of Peter Pan and Treasure Island. He was dumped by Disney for hitting puberty and thereby losing his cuteness and bankability. He died in New York a homeless drug-addict, aged 31, in 1968. The police failed to identify his body.

Ferree pays homage via just about every genre possible. His in-your-face voice drapes itself across doo-wop, rockabilly, country and even glam-rock. Here he resembles Freddie Mercury going gospel. There he’s Marc Bolan with a dash of Pixies. Elsewhere he lunges into darker ground, like Nick Cave re-imagining a cruddy Elvis movie. The sheer gall of the project teeters on the brink of brattishly irritating, but ultimately you’re swept along by his gusto and panache.

This is a flouncing, flawed album of huge ambition. One sincerely hopes he’s dreaming up a rock-opera about Britney at this very moment.

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