By Jonah Covell
This is music by someone who knows where he’s singing from and what it means to be. You can feel it on every track.
Ontario. A small barn on a “recently retired” tobacco farm in the eastern Canadian province is where Benjamin Dakota Rogers calls home. The subject matter of Paint Horse isn’t small in the slightest, but it has a feel that reflects such quiet intimacy.
Over 12 originals and a cover of ‘Blackjack County Chain’, Rogers welcomes a vast cast of characters, from the doomed “Rosie” to the vengeful antihero of ‘John Came Home”. More than half of these songs are named for people: together their tales make up the kind of mythos that most songwriters can only dream of.
The spotlight may have found its way onto Rogers via TikTok, but he’s got old-school lineage to boot; exhibited in the way he handles the 1922 Stella four-string that he got from fellow Alt-Country Canadian Fred Eaglesmith.
Rogers’ even has a haunting trucker speed song of his own, following ‘Arlo’ from motel to motel with his wife in a Tupperware on the passenger seat. His singing is comparable to Willy Tea Taylor; his wizened yowl ranges from tentative and poetic to furious, particularly on the whirlwind chorus to ‘Back to You’.
Paint Horse features the same three instrumentalists throughout. Peter Klaassen plays bass, Sam Clark coaxes out some brilliant fiddle sounds, while Rogers tracks most everything else. Tracks like ‘Charlie Boy’ and ‘Eloise’ take well-worn traditional forms, but situate them within Rogers’ own songbook, where they crackle with life. There are moments late in the record where the riffs and reels Rogers coaxes from that four-string sound a little familiar, but his playing never loses any of its immediacy.
Rogers’s biggest feat with Paint Horse is the way he’s fused the hardscrabble tales of the people from songs with a lived-in love for his surroundings. On ‘Little Old Paint Horse’, Rogers’ lover is compared to an oak tree: “And she holds me in her branches / When I can’t stand at all”.
Sleeping outside in the refrain, Rogers sings; “the stars are like a blanket / God hung over me”. On the rainswept yodel tune ‘Wild Wind Can Have Me’, a lonesome cowboy caught up in a storm “all dust and anguish” leaves his pony, entrusting himself to the wind to bring him home to his baby.
With Paint Horse, you can imagine yourself situated before the trio in Roger’s barn, hearing the songs come to life. This is music by someone who knows where he’s singing from and what it means to be. You can feel it on every track.
9 / 10.
Benjamin Dakota Rogers' 2023 album, Paint Horse, is released February 17 via Good People Recording Co.
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