At first glance, it might seem a bit odd that Benmont Tench is releasing his first solo album at the age of 60. When you factor in the work he’s done over the past 40 years, however, you’ll understand why he hasn’t exactly had the time. Tench, the industry-coveted keysman in Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers since that band’s inception, has also been a first-call session player over those many decades to an endless list of artists like Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow, and The Goo Goo Dolls. While doing so, he managed to secure his own name in the halls of Americana immortality with an unmistakably earth-salted tone that sings like a smooth glass of sweet tea and is arguably the touchstone for 21st century roots music shading.
Hearing Tench’s voice for the first time is a treat, as it reflects the mellifluous ease of his music with a gravelly whisper – not dissimilar to the weathered strain of The Badlees’ Bret Alexander or the feigned despondency of Lou Reed. Tench’s vocals huddle the listener a little closer to the halfway snide commentary of the Warren Zevon-esque wordplay in “Today I Took Your Picture Down” and give off a distinctly Springsteen flavor on the blooming rocker “Veronica Said,” sounding ripe for inclusion on the Boss’s 1973 “The Wild, The Innocent & The E-Street Shuffle.”
Tench’s songwriting is impeccable, with stories wrapping around familiar emotions, taking on a tangible life of their own. Such is the case in “Hannah,” where Tench smacks lyrically with, “I feel the hit of your hand through the back of my coat / repeating every letter of a note you wrote” – a love affair so messy yet so deep that there is no alternative but full submission, the track’s intricate hand percussion and sparse piano playing like a soundtrack to a favorite romantic comedy. Likewise, “Why Don’t You Quit Leaving Me Alone” is a Leonard Cohen-inspired shade of solitary blue – a New York City rainy day serenade vibe, Tench’s uptown piano complemented by lush orchestration.
A recognizable yet contemporary statement from one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most underrated team players, the sheer honesty of Benmont Tench’s approach is the redeeming quality of a career spent working up to this very point.
Benmont Tench ‘You Should Be So Lucky’ Rating: W W W W