There are singer-songwriters, and there are troubadours. Singer-songwriters are sensitive, polished souls, sharing their journal entries with the world, whereas troubadours do their best just to stay out of jail. And in the wake of Ben de la Cour’s astonishing new record, Shadow Land, you can add his name to the top of the list of younger troubadours to whom this ever-so-occasionally poisoned chalice is being passed. Shadow Land will be released May 15th on Flour Sack Cape Records.
Shadow Land shimmers – it’s both terrifying, soothing and suffused with honesty, craft, a rare soul-baring fearlessness and enough surprises to keep the listener guessing. It gets down and dirty with electric guitar but also features Ben’s diffident fingerpicking in quieter moments. Ultimately, it is a darkly beautiful meditation on what it means to be human. Ben’s voice renders emotion with authority as he recounts tales of suspicious characters; lost lovers, bank robbers, suicides, mental illness, ghoul-haunted pool halls and murders in front of ghoul-haunted pool halls.
To say Ben de la Cour has lived an eventful life in the course of keeping that flame lit would be putting it mildly. As a young man Ben was a successful amateur boxer, even spending eight months in Cuba training with members of the national team. After playing New York City dives like CBGBs with his brother a decade before he could legally drink, he had already stuffed himself into a bottle of bourbon and pulled the cork in tight over his head by the time he was twenty one. He was a handful to say the least. There were arrests, homes in tough neighborhoods all over the world, countless false starts and battles with mental health and substance abuse. But seven years ago Ben finally found himself in East Nashville, and after a successful stint in a dual-diagnosis facility he’s racked up two years sober and made far and away the best of his four albums – Shadow Land.
Today Glide is excited to premiere the video for “From Now On,” a standout track on the new album that encapsulates the sound and feel of Ben’s music. Playing acoustic guitar accompanied by moody strings, Ben taps into his inner Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark as he lends his mellow vocals with a slight rasp to a heartfelt reflection of Nashville after the recent tornadoes hit. As is the case with many songs these days, his chorus of “Is it going to be this way from now on?” takes on new meaning amidst the backdrop of a pandemic. The lyrical imagery of tornadoes damaging a community is based on real life but also functions as a metaphor for what we are all going through, especially within the music community as we all wonder when we will ever get to experience the joy of live performance again.
Ben de la Cour shares his thoughts on the process and inspiration behind the song:
“I shot the video for ‘From Now On’ in my neighborhood and living room in East Nashville over the course of a few days on my iPhone. And it shows! I was on tour in Australia when the tornado hit, and when I came home in some ways it was like returning to a different city – but in other ways it was depressingly familiar. After completing my mandatory two-week quarantine I left my house and drove around the city for a few hours. The word dystopian’ is thrown around liberally these days with very good reason, but seeing Broadway left to the pigeons in the middle of a Saturday afternoon was still a bizarre sight. The only places still open were the ubiquitous big chains – McDonalds, Taco Bell, Wendy’s… a little taste of Smalltown USA right here in the heart of Nashvegas. The tornado damage was in some ways the least surreal part of it all since demolished landmarks, displaced families and torn down buildings are hardly a rare sight in Nashville these days. The only difference being that this time there was an honest-to-god-front-page-hashtag-worthy natural disaster to blame. The irony is that many of the same people posting their #NASHVILLESTRONG selfies in front of the The Basement East’s rotting carcass will likely trundle back home to the very condos that displaced the original residents who defined the vibrant and eclectic neighborhood in the first place. Edgefield, Fond Object, Family Wash, Turn One, Charlie Bob’s… those were gone long before the tornado hit.
It’s true that disasters like the tornado and COVID19 have brought a new sense of community to the city, which always seems to be the sliver of silver lining that hovers over clouds of doom like a small halo. The uncertainty, the emptiness, the fear – those things cross borders of class, race, politics and income to some degree and serve as a reminder that we’re all in this together, for better or worse. We’ve been collectively trying to define the ‘new normal’ since 2016. But normalcy has always seemed to be a luxury afforded to the very few, and it seems to have always been that way. For most people in America nothing was ever normal to begin with. One thing seems fairly certain, however – as long as city planners continue to allow developers to use lower-income community spaces as their personal piggy banks, many lower-income families will forever be in the eye of a most human of natural disasters – greed. That will stay the same.