Brendan Benson finds himself in an enviable spot as he enters the third decade of a remarkably creative, consistently idiosyncratic career – an accomplished frontman, musician, songwriter, producer, band member, husband, and dad. Benson’s seventh solo album, and first new LP in almost seven years, Dear Life is this consummate polymath’s most inventive and upbeat work thus far, an 11-track song cycle about life, love, family, fatherhood, and the pure joy of making music. Produced and almost entirely performed by Benson at his own Readymade Studio in Nashville, the album sees the Michigan-born, Nashville-based artist – and co-founder, with Jack White, of The Raconteurs – reveling in a more modernist approach than ever before, fueled by a heady brew of cannabis, hip-hop, and a newly discovered interest in software drum programming. The result is an untapped playfulness that elevates expertly crafted songs like the opener, “I Can If You Want Me To,” and the first single, “Good To Be Alive,” with voluble arrangements, elastic grooves, and incandescent power. Imbued with revitalized ambition and confidence, Dear Life is Brendan Benson at his very best.
Beginning with his now-classic 1996 major label debut, One Mississippi – recently reissued by Third Man in its first-ever vinyl pressing – and its masterful 2002 follow-up, Lapalco, Benson has always infused classic craftsmanship with contemporary invention. Along with his own critically acclaimed canon, Benson is of course co-founder – with Jack White, Jack Lawrence, and Patrick Keeler – of The Raconteurs. The band first convened in 2006, winning worldwide acclaim, Grammy Award nominations, and a chart-topping smash single in “Steady As She Goes,” with their now-classic debut album, Broken Boy Soldiers The Raconteurs returned two short years later with 2008’s Consolers Of The Lonely. Like its predecessor, the LP proved a popular and critical phenomenon, earning the Grammy Award for “Best Engineered Non-Classical Album” as well as a nomination as “Best Rock Album.”
Dear Life came about gradually and organically after a self-imposed creative hiatus rooted in the happy arrival of his son and later, a daughter. Having spent the majority of his adult life on the road, Benson decided he’d prefer to stay home for a change and just be a dad. “I just couldn’t bear the thought of leaving,” he says. “I was so enamored with my kids, I just sort of lost touch with my career. I just didn’t want to go back to work.” Instead, Benson directed his musical energies elsewhere and fast proved an in-demand producer/engineer (Robyn Hitchcock, Young The Giant, Trapper Schoepp, The Greenhornes) and collaborative songwriter, with a CV that includes partnerships with Jake Bugg, Iain Archer (Snow Patrol), and The Kooks’ Luke Pritchard, among others. Despite his successes, after a few years in this voluntary wilderness, Benson surprised himself in 2017 by writing and recording the rocker “Half A Boy (And Half A Man).” “It just felt really good,” he says. “I felt like I was like born again. Seriously, it was almost a religious experience, like, oh my God, I love making music. I had forgotten. That’s how it started. It was kind of a spark. A re-ignition.”