Review Summary: A former filmmaker turns to music and storytelling with excellent results.
Storytellers are no new category in modern music. From serious jokers like Jonathan Richman, to witty and ironic like Randy Newman to lyrical and prophetic like Leonard Cohen to stream of consciousness and often dystopian like Mark Kozelek in his latest incarnation as Sun Kil Moon. And here comes Benjamin Dean Wilson, a practical newcomer, as far as music is concerned, with his album The Smartest Person in the Room. With a title like that and presenting himself as a musical storyteller, you immediately start thinking - is he joking or is he serious"
Both. Wilson started out as a film man, a camera assistant working on commercials. Not exactly the credentials for somebody who then ventures into music and who plays practically all instruments on the album, except a guest fiddle player. He was obviously inspired by film-style storytelling because none of the tracks on the album runs below four minutes, and we are not talking instrumentals.
Usually, artists like Richman, Newman, and Cohen or The Go-Betweens’ Robert Forster, restrict their stories to relatively brief formats, condensing the images to present, while on the other hand, Kozelek has opted to a sort of rambling long-winding, practically spoken storytelling that has musical backing.
Wilson seems to have taken some sort of middle ground. He definitely sings with a voice that is anywhere between Richman and Adam Green, but at no point slipping out of tune, intentionally or unintentionally. His instrumental capabilities are quite good, but there are no dazzling solos on any of the instruments he plays. But he obviously has the smarts (and not only within a room) to use them exactly in the manner that suits his musical flow and the story he is literally trying to tell.
Where Wilson truly impresses is with his compositional skills and yes, his storytelling. The tracks are long, but at no point does Wilson allow the listener to get bored, either musically or lyrically. The musical stories on The Smartest Person in the Room shift and change and are essentially quite impressive for somebody who is practically a newcomer to recording music.
While all the tracks can be freely labeled as exceptional, the personal standout is one of the longer stories here - “Mr. Paranoid, Lizzy, and Her Family”. Benjamin Dean Wilson might not be material for regular radio play but has certainly come up with an album that will acquire him a cult status, at least.