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Fat Possum
Ben Davis
Aided and Abetted
Lovitt Records

Rating: 7/10 ?


October 1, 2004
Although it bounces a bit between pop ballads, slow heartbreakers and upbeat rockers, Aided and Abetted is a fine, and cohesive, effort from Ben Davis, of Sleepytime Trio and Bats and Mice fame.

Aided and Abetted is an old school album, with Davis at the controls as a group of almost 20 musicians and 4 producers come together. Musicians and producers used to work this way years ago. When producers were locked into a specific label, they just produced whatever they were asked to; artists used a plethora of studio musicians as the stars on their albums.

The problem with the multiple project and musician approach is that sometimes producers couldn't work as well with a certain artist or genre; musicians, even if they were all greatly talented, didn't always make good music together.

However, the producers and musicians on Aided and Abetted sound like they've always worked together. The production is gentle and understated and the musicians step into Davis's songs like their favorite pair of pants. The record has a warm feel, with songs often based around piano and soft guitars, and Davis's singing and songwriting is generally impressive.

The album begins with the piano-driven "Departure Warning," a soft rocker with a little Stevie Wonder and Hall and Oates sound. Next comes "Time a Bind." It's a song about moving on, moving past mistakes, and has kind of a psychedelic/jangly guitar play base, reminiscent of a Sonic Youth ballad. Aimee Argote, of Des Ark, lends Davis some vocal help, singing the refrain "Don't file/the blame/across the states/that were blinded by winter now."

Track 3, "Old and Played" is less impressive than the first two, with Davis' voice going falsetto - his pure vocals, as opposed to the sound manipulated ones, are always better on this album - and the bassline just falls asleep. From there, the following "Blue-Hearted Sleeve" is the best thing on the album - the second best being "In Either Words" and third being "Forced Escape Canoe," all more rocking songs.

"Blue-Hearted Sleeve" is the tale of a character that finds a ring and contemplates heartbreak. The track swells with strings and is guided by a catchy guitar riff from Argote and wonderful piano work from Davis and Eddie Sanchez of Fing Fang Foom.

"Underdawg" comes next, feeding off of "Blue-Hearted Sleeve" and stepping it up a bit. Its big, distorted power chords lead into some more catchy guitar sliding work from Argote. The track sounds kind of like a melancholy Interpol tune, then jumps into "Crawler," another piano steered track that is a little more "elevator music" than it should be.

Over all, the album is nicely done, though it lacks any incredible "ummph" or inspiration. Still, Aided and Abetted is easy on the ears. The mixture of male and female vocals lends some nice variety to the songs, and the musicians - Argote, Cornbread Compton of Engine Down, Jonathan Fuller of Denali, and Dave Laney of Milemarker, among others - fit into Davis's subdued rock schematic excellently.

Now, if I had to see this band live, I'm not sure that I'd stay, because of some of the slow parts and a couple tired songs, but Davis - his singing, guitar/bass/piano playing self - has put his name to a decent album that could go up in a CD collection near the Mendoza Line or maybe some Aloha or Faint albums, and receive a spin or two each year.

Reviewed by Mike Hammer


See other reviews by Mike Hammer

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