Ben de la Cour’s latest, Shadow Land, is a dark, often melancholy look at life and also happens to be pitch-perfect music for the dystopia we are currently living through.
With a global pandemic cycling through towns causing death and economic uncertainty and racial inequalities finally getting the widespread media coverage they deserve while the voices of white supremacy fight and claw to continue to oppress, all the while, a xenophobic lunatic in the White House watches it all burn, and de la Cour’s masterful knack for digging into the darker aspects of life make this an ideal soundtrack to the summer of 2020.
The record starts out with the somber “God’s Only Son,” about a drifter with a God complex, and then segues into the equally dark “High Heels Down the Holler,” both decent enough songs, but they fail to properly serve as a prelude to what lies ahead.
It’s when the album starts to move into faster tempo fare, like “In God We Trust… All Others Pay Cash” that de la Cour’s songwriting prowess starts to really take shape. You’d be hard-pressed to call any of these songs optimistic, but the striking title track and the Springsteen/Tom Waits hybrid “Amazing Grace (Slight Return)” spotlight his stellar ability to tell compelling, character-driven stories in three-minute increments.
Elsewhere, “Basin Lounge” allows de la Cour to exercise his boogie woogie demons; the main character comes off like a modern-day Jerry Lee Lewis who doesn’t care if you can see the traces of cocaine on his upper lip. The record ends with the one-two punch of “Harmless Indian Medicine Blues,” the most understated and strongest song on the record, and “Valley of the Moon,” a bluesy, trippy number that serves as an appropriate bookend to this eclectic record.
Released in a different time, Shadow Land may not have gotten the proper attention, but in 2020, it’s an ideal record to put on as the world spins off its axis.