Following the release of Benjamin Francis Leftwich’s’ 2018 EP, I Am with You, Leftwich returns with his third studio album, Gratitude. Gratitude promises to retain the raw emotion adorned on his first two LP’s: Last Smoke before the Snowstorm and After the Rain; whilst also bringing more electronic elements into play, along with a darker, intricately layered production. This change in direction is interesting and will definitely tax fans who are more used to a sound of Bens’ melancholic acoustic folk-pop reminiscent of Damien Rice, José González and Iron & Wine.
Gratitude opens with a track bearing the same name, a mellow subtle motley of light piano, jazz saxophone and electronic production; yet it remains a distinctly recognisable indie-folk tune Ben is renowned for. Sometimes is equally mellow but introduces itself with a classic folksy James Taylor You’ve got a Friend guitar riff. As Sometimes progresses, electronic elements protrude into the song without diminishing the purity of the folk guitar arrangements. Big Fish, like the album opener, is piano led with distinctive Iron & Wine and Bon Iver influences. The electronic influences are minimal amidst the background and don’t play an experimental role. Halfway through Big Fish, distinctive electronic drums come into the centrefold without threatening the Iron and Wine and Bon Iver influences. Real Friends returns to guitar intros; this time borrowing influence from José Gonzálezs’ Heartbeats creating a chilled anthem.
The other mellower songs from this LP borrow their influences from artists as varied as Bryan Adams to Lonely the Brave. Luzern is reminiscent to Bryan Adam’s Star (the theme tune to the 1996 film Jack) yet purer and more filtered whilst fused with Thirteen Senses influences. Miracle Sister is a revelation song about learning ways of “Seeing through the surface” echoes Ryan Adams mellowest and sanguine back catalogue. Playout track, The Mess We Make will remind Lonely the Brave fans of the mellowest material from their stripped back Things Will Matter (Redux) LP.
The remainder of Gratitude goes into unchartered territory; being more up-tempo than the material Leftwich has released to date. Look Ma! is a slightly mellower version of Bastilles’ Pompeii but is not in its shadow. The elating child choral sampling adds melancholy poignancy. Tell Me You Started to Pray is also up-tempo as is I Got You, with its Tears for Fears Mad World sounding intro; before developing into a Newton Faulkner Dream Catch Me pop-folk tune. Blue Dress is easily the rockiest track off Gratitude. You can definitively dance to it. Roísín, has the most distorted electro piano keys making it most out of character track.
Whilst it is evident that Ben has experimented on Gratitude; his vocals remain unchanged. Although the guitar has not been replaced or sidelined; it is no longer a dominant player in Bens’ arrangements. As well as the other influences mentioned; Chicane and Morcheeba are also present. Leftwich’s’ lyrical discovery is impressive and emotive. For example, “Luckily, Clarity, Finally is coming to me Slowly, I can see” from The Mess We Make is poignant as is, “If somebody had told me then what I know now. Would not have listened, I wouldn’t have known now” and “Now, I know what I’m prayin’ for Not to waste any time like I wasted before” from Gratitude both offer raw emotion.
Bens’ new direction on Gratitude is not always instantly easy to digest; yet Gratitude is brave and courageous like Ben, who despite losing his father to lung cancer in his early twenties, has coped, continued to make music and satisfy a colossal fan base (consisting of over two million monthly listeners and over two hundred thousand followers on Spotify).