Shapes & Shadows
Mar 23, 2011 Web Exclusive
For many a casual Gomez listener, Ben Ottewell's voice is the main identifier. Ottewell's raspy baritone, which has been likened to Tom Waits more often than not, takes center stage on his debut solo album, Shapes & Shadows. Recorded with fellow Gomez breakout vocalist Ian Ball's stable of musicians in Los Angeles, Shapes was co-written over a lengthy period of time with childhood chum Sam Genders of Tunng.
Shapes is acoustic, as would be expected, but that is not to say the instrumentation is sparse. On "Lightbulbs" there is a fullness and richness to the musical accompaniment that has many subtle layers. This doesn't override Ottewell's rough yet raw tones, which tumble fluidly through the refrain. Elsewhere, on "Chose," there isn't enough instrumentation on which to hang Ottewell's voice—which causes the listener's interest to wane. Ottewell shines a spotlight on his country influence, particularly with the hoedown guitar twangs of "All Brand New" and the sinuous plucking on "Step Right Back." He goes further south with slide guitars and a banjo on "Blackbird," whose return on the chorus plays out similarly to what Gomez would do.
Style-wise, Shapes isn't marking a great departure from Gomez's jams. Rather, it highlights certain aspects the group includes in their music. Plus, the album allows Ottewell space to breathe. And he has never had as much oxygen as he does on Shapes. (www.benottewell.com)
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