Blues tunes with Darth Vader rhymes? Yes.
by Chris Morin
Beginning with his debut album No Absolutes in 1994, Edmonton troubadour Ben Sures has released five albums of roots-tinged folk. Now, he’s ready to ditch the tags and labels usually associated with his music.
His latest, Son of Trouble, is a shift towards the blues. It’s a genre that Sures, who admits he’s always been known primarily “as a folkie singer and songwriter,” has long flirted with but never properly romanced.
“I’ve made a lot of records and there’s no grey area — I’ve established myself,” he says. “So I thought it was safe to take some chances and not worry about it. And I don’t have any critical mass, so no one really cares what I do. I’m free to make the music that I want to, and I had never put down those kinds of chops before.”
Sures says the change came about shortly after he picked up a vintage guitar during his travels in California.
“I played most of the record on an early-’60s single-pickup Fender Musicmaster, with my thumb, so I took the old-fashioned approach music-wise,” he says. “Also, my thumb sounds better than a pick.
“One reviewer said my guitar playing was ‘surprisingly good’. I don’t know if that means it was bad to begin with,” he jokes.
Recorded in Toronto with co-producer Don Kerr (who currently plays with Ron Sexsmith and is a past member of The Rheostatics), Sures says Son of Trouble took a scant three days in the studio to finish. The process led to an album with both a sense of immediacy and a raw and organic sound.
“The most economical approach to making a record is that you play and sing to a click track, and the bass and drums play to that. And then you play to them,” says Sures. “With what I do, it’s more about the emotion and personality that comes through rather than the vocal prowess, and we certainly captured all that. And the record was done in the blink of an eye.”
Full of bluesy breakdowns and driving, minimalist percussion, Son of Trouble is rambly and upbeat. It’s also fun lyrically. “I Could be Your Man” has him rhyming “Darth Vader” with “carburetor,” for example. Other songs are saucy.
Son of Trouble was also written with an eye towards the stage, says Sures.
“I wanted to write some simpler songs. I want to have some tunes that I can just pull out of a hat in case I have a night off and I pull up at a jam. I want those songs to retain my personality.”
A career musician who’s crisscrossed the country countless times, Sures has been in the game for well over 20 years. Along the way, he’s written songs for things like CBC Radio’s The Irrelevant Show and other programs.
He’s also no stranger to these parts: by his own account he’s played in Saskatchewan “a million times,” both under his own projects and as a sideman.
“I’ve played with a lot of people there,” he says. “I’m so immersed in a place like Saskatoon that my name was written at least twice on the walls of [local blues bar] Bud’s. Oh, and my father did the ceramic mural at the Sturdy Stone Building.”