Ben l’Oncle Is Ready to Bare His Soul and Dreams (A Coup De Reves, Album Review)
Over the decades there are many things we must thank the French for; Louisiana, macarons, mimosas, and the Statue of Liberty, but we would be remiss if we did not add Ben l’Oncle Soul to the list. The French soul-singer seems to be on a hell bent mission to revive soul music in 2014 and his new project, “À Coup De Rêves” (With Dreams) [via iTunes], makes for a refreshing addition to the genre. Ben l’Oncle gained national acclaim, 450,000 records sold, and a A Victoire de la Musique award (Live Revelation) for his first self-titled album in 2010. Success like that can be hard to follow, especially when one is searching for a new stream of inspiration to pour into a follow-up project. Lucky for us, Ben l’Oncle chose to link up with California psychedelic soul band the Monophonics. After falling in love with the band and meeting them in Paris, Ben was sold and bought a ticket to San Francisco to work with them. The close collaborations of the band and Ben inspired and shaped his new album “À Coup De Rêves” (available on iTunes). Ben pulls no punches as he wails on each track, giving his stories and voice as an offering to his listeners. After spending countless hours in the San Fransisco den of the Monophonics, Ben l’Oncle Soul has emerged with the sophomore project that his fans have been waiting four years and we can say it was definitely worth the wait.
As the sound of an electric guitar cries through the speakers, supported by the moan of horns, Ben l’Oncle transports the listener to a simpler time in music. The Motown influence is unmistakable as the first song of the album, “Walk The Line”, floods the speakers. The song sends a message of encouragement and perseverance to the listener saying, “In this life you have to walk the line and be brave. You’ll make it through one more time”. Ben’s classic analog Soul sound both smoothes and crackles like a vinyl record. The song sets the tone for the album; introducing listeners to a refreshing take on a long established music style.
The second song, “Hallelujah !!! (J’Ai Tant Besoin De Toi)”, is a change of pace, as the French crooner uses the band to get listeners dancing. Ben exhibited his gift for the groove and festive songs on his first album and returns with more on the second. The song is reminiscent of Duffy’s 2008 release “Mercy”, but it is Ben l’Oncle’s ability to mix both French and English into his writing that sets him apart from any other. Translated, the title means, “I Need You So Much” and the groove is absolutely undeniable. The aspects of gospel, not only come from the title, but from the style of brass section and the usage of a gospel choir to provide background support.
“Ailleurs” is one of those songs that can stand completely by it’s own and still have an effect on all who listen because of its emotive nature. As Ben begs to be taken “somewhere else”, the listener is ready to follow him to wherever he ends up. The majority of the song is in French, but great music has no language and even if the listener doesn’t understand a word that is said, the feeling of shameless desire is communicated. It is definitely one of the many songs on the album the listener will want to replay as soon as it finishes, but since it comes early in the tracklist there are many more gems waiting to be heard.
The title track of the album, “À Coup De Rêves” (With Dreams), hits home as the brass and electric guitar come together to create an entangling melody that is lightly accented by the use of the jazz flute. There is aggressive energy to the song; Ben l’Oncle’s ability to emote past his lyrics is a singular talent and the reason why this song and his music has caught on internationally.
“Simply Beautiful” is another track that stands out on the album, as Ben teams up with Keziah Jones to do a rendition of Al Green’s 1972 ballad that does the legend crooner justice. The slow groove of the song allows the vocals of the two artists to shine through as they put their own twist on a timeless song.
“Attends-Moi” (Wait For Me) is a track that appears in the later part of the album, but its sensual nature will make it a listening favorite. The song speaks of a exposed passion that sounds like a religious experience due to the gospel choir in the background.
For the fans who go through the project and want more, there is a limited edition of the album available with an alternative version of “Hallelujah !!!”, produced by 20Syl (Hocus Pocus / C2C) and a cover of Diamond Joe’s 1973 song, “Don’t Set Me Back”. When asked why he wanted to include the cover on the album Ben replied, “He (Diamond Joe) released an album in 1973. It’s southern soul where he replays a scratched record live. For me, that was the start of hip-hop. It’s an incredible, original thing, totally modern in its message.”.
The project is like nothing you’ve ever heard mixed with everything you grew up listening to (assuming you have a soft spot for Motown and Soul music). There is a purity that comes in the emotive honesty of Ben’s music and voice, but the true gift comes in the simplicity and cohesiveness of the project and some of that credit has to go to the Monophonics. The influence of the Monophonics unique style of Psychedelic Soul and Funk can be heard throughout the album and is a testament to collaborations of the band and Ben; when two great sounds come together it’s bound to be great and listeners will be happy that this project is. Every artist fears the sophomore slump, the inevitable disappointment that comes with high expectations, especially for an artist who’s first project garnered him such great success, but after hearing this album Ben can sleep easy knowing that listeners will be happy and begging for more. The project simply put has style. No, not swag, but a matured tone kind of like an aged Cabernet compared to a bottle of Ciroc. The emotive nature of Ben’s music and voice is reminiscent of such soul greats as Otis Redding and it is the reason why the use of French in his music is not a barrier, but a bridge connecting to different cultures together. The ability of music to transcend all lines is exemplified not only in Ben’s collaboration with the Monophonics, but also in Ben himself, and it is the reason why the music speaks on its own.