Marco Benevento Drops Thick Experimental Grooves On Riveting ‘Benevento’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

As the rest of civilization began to suddenly grind to a halt due to the pandemic-related lockdowns in 2020, the keyboard-toting virtuoso retreated to the familiar confines of his Woodstock, NY residence, with wife & kids in-tow, to hunker down and wait out what seemed to be the end of the world at that time amongst New York state’s picturesque Catskill Mountains. Thankfully for Mr. Benevento and his ardent fans, his rural dwelling was also home to the keyboardist’s own well-equipped intimate Fred Short Recording Studio, a boon that allowed Marco to record his ninth full-length solo LP, Benevento. (out 6/10)

“The studio was a good place to be trapped,” Benevento says. “Surrounded by tape machines and gear. The album started to become this document of a crazy dude losing his mind in the woods — and maybe regaining it.”

The end result is a cohesive musical array that invites the listener on a forty-minute psychedelic adventure traversing all eighty-eight keys, and then some, thanks to its mesmerizing soundscapes and intricate beats that only a keyboard clairvoyant like Mr. Benevento could employ. 

With an album title conceived as a nod to Paul McCartney’s legendary eponymous debut album, a similarly low-key affair, Benevento is in stark contrast to Marco’s previous studio release, Let It Slide (2019), a considerably more minimalistic undertaking. 

“I guess all my records are kind of experimental and weird but this one is really unique,” Benevento says. “Records are just snapshots of time, and this is from a time when it was just me, dialing knobs and making mixes and inventing how things could sound.”

Tracks like the opening instrumental, “Like Me”, set the tone for the rest of the album with an eerie-but-welcoming melody that would feel right at home in some surreal Stanley Kubrick film overtop some slick drum machine beats that never distract or otherwise take away from Benevento’s magician-like keyboard work.

While lyrics have admittedly never been a focal point of Marco’s career – his instrumental prowess is more than enough to carry his own weight – the Benevento LP offers up something of a change in that regard as it marks the first time the keyboardist has worked with an outside lyricist, San Diego-based wordsmith Al Howard, who provided Marco with nearly a dozen pages of lyrical tropes and poems which Benevento re-worked and added his own lines to. 

“It was a new thing for me to dive into — using someone’s lyrics,” explains the amiable pianist. “Or, I should say, finding a way to fit someone else’s lyrics into my tunes. I was a bit fed up with my own lyrical ideas, and was immediately drawn to Al’s writing.”

Although a large majority of the LP’s instrumentation is helmed by Marco himself, he is also joined on a handful of songs by Mamadouba ‘Mimo’ Camara, whose fiery percussion work sends several of the tracks into overdrive, as well as his immediate family who provide some heartening background vocals throughout. 

This collaboration pays off nicely as Howard’s sinuous lyrics perfectly complement Marco’s labyrinthine musical implementations, particularly on the album’s standout track, “Marco & Mimo”, which also does a fine job showcasing the poly-rhythmic talents of Mr. Camara. 

“At The End Or The Beginning”, which sports an MGMT-vibe thanks to its effects-laden vocals with pandemic-related lyrics and electro-pop musical façade proceeds two more tracks with similarly altered vocals, “We Were Here”, which sounds at times like theme music for a psychedelic circus and “Winter Rose”, a tribal-influenced piece teeming with eye-opening electric piano runs from Marco. 

The lyrical trio is followed up by a brief oddity of an instrumental, “Polysix”, a thirty-five-second ditty that reads like a modernized version of the Grateful Dead’s equally strange “Antwerp’s Placebo,” before another of the album’s standout moments, “The Warm Up,” an aptly named instrumental that was recorded by Marco immediately after arising for the day with his morning coffee in hand and sounds as if it was composed by Simon Posford & Bruce Hornsby after an LSD-fueled jam session. “That’s just me sitting at the piano in the morning, getting the day started, saying alright, let’s play,” Benevento explains. “I like that element of just walking into the studio, turning on a keyboard and a drum machine, overdubbing some simple things, and thinking maybe that’s done?

The thick grooves continue throughout the album’s B-side with the locomotive “Do You Want Some Magic” and “Mountain Cougars”, which once again features the impressive percussive stylings of Mr. Camara as well an onslaught of dizzying eastern-hemisphere influenced runs from Marco that seem to somehow instantaneously cover all seven registers with just one hand. 

Benevento comes to a satisfying conclusion with “Ballad of a Broken Wing”, another driving instrumental that contains some of Marco’s most impressive electric piano work to date, and “Is This a Dream”, whose hypnotic vocal refrain repeats the song’s title as the LP gracefully fades to black.

Despite being most widely known for his renowned work in beloved jam-oriented groups such as the Benevento/Russo Duo and JRAD, Marco continues to prove that his solo output is just as formidable, if not more so, than his collaborative efforts.

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