On his excellent album Scenes From a Well-Spent Youth, Tim Benton revisits a selection of popular songs from the 1960s and '70s. As the record’s title indicates, these are all songs that Benton associates with his formative years. Noting that the featured tracks are all “from an exceptionally fertile time for popular music”, Benton reveals that these are songs that he performed when he was “just starting out as a singer” in Wellington, New Zealand and, as such, are “loaded with echoes of people, places and experiences past”. The notion of a retrospective glance is nicely encapsulated by the tracks that bookend the record: Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s sublime “Goin’ Back” is the opening song, while a setting of Fran Landesman's poem “A Paradox” closes the work, with its melancholy recognition that “It’s the happy memories that make you sad,…/ the memory of a better day, so fair and far away/that breaks your heart.”
In between, the song choices encompass an impressive range, moving from Motown to musical theatre to singer-songwriter classics. However, the album is as stylistically cohesive as it is carefully sequenced. Working with the talented arranger and pianist Simon Wallace, Benton’s approach is to strip down the songs to their bare bones in piano and voice arrangements that place the emphasis firmly on the lyrics of each composition. As such, the approach is somewhat similar to Wallace’s work with Barb Jungr, with supple, inventive, jazzy piano playing serving as the sole accompaniment to the singing. Benton’s rich vocals are immediately striking and inviting, his delivery at once stately and sensitive, dramatic and delicate, as the material requires.
Highlights of the generous selection of 17 tracks include arresting treatments of “Laughter in the Rain”, “Out in the Country”, “Chelsea Morning”, “24 Hours From Tulsa”, “Last Train to Clarkesville” and “It’s Too Late”, each of which gain fresh textures. However, Benton succeeds in making all of these songs, no matter how iconic, sound like intimate, personal statements here.
Scenes From a Well-Spent Youth is available to buy via CD Baby.