Album review: Benny D Williams | Cities of Gold

Too often concept albums quickly become bogged down in their own importance, mistakenly thinking that by force-feeding the listener a particular subject that they will somehow become more receptive to the matter at hand.

In attempting his first venture into the realm of conceptually based music, Gold Coast musician Benny D Williams has instead elected to adopt a more conservative approach to his album ‘Cities of Gold’, in the process breathing fresh life into a music form that was gradually fading to oblivion.

Opening with the title track, Williams starts things off quietly with an underlying acoustic sound that switches between upbeat shuffles of music infused with tribal undertones that combine beautifully to set a visual scene in your head that does not need lyrics to dictate the storyline.

It is as if Williams set himself a task of bringing each song to life in the minds of his audience, resisting the temptation to use an orchestral-type score to create ebbs and flows, and instead almost meandering casually through each song.

The instruments never feel like they are fighting for dominance and often almost take a back seat to the ambience. At times the songs are left feeling almost hollow, such is the minimalistic nature of guitars and effects, but again this adds to the overall feel of the album and allows the listener to fill in the blanks with feelings and memories of their own.

The two singles, ‘Cleanse Your Soul’ and ‘The Ocean Song’ have even greater resonance when played as a part of the collective, with the use of garbled vocals – making ‘The Ocean Song’ sound like it was being sung underwater – just an example of the lengths of experimentation Williams has adopted.

‘Feeling the Flow’ is perhaps the standout track on the album, with an up-tempo acoustic backbone layered with subtle effects that accentuate rather than dictate proceedings.

‘Washing Machine’ switches territory again, with an Eastern style arrangement almost putting you inside the spin cycle as the swirling musical interludes pass through your body via your ears.

At times, particularly given some of the song titles, it is easy to forget the album is centred around one particular region and way of life but somehow each song manages to convey thoughts relating to the subject matter with minimal effort.

Songs such as ‘The Rat, The Cat, and The Chosen One’, ‘Red Headed Jill’ and ‘Washing Machine’ obviously have close personal connections with Williams as songwriter but by the end of each tune the overall feeling of acceptance is enough to divert your thoughts away from the title and instead focus on the music.

With minimal use of lyrics as a stabilising medium, Cities of Gold is essentially an instrumental album. It is an album about life in the greatest city of the world, but it is also the memoirs of one of the residents of the city who has made an album that is much tribute as it is concept.

As a collection of music, it ticks all of the necessary boxes, but as a stand-alone analysis of what makes a community more than a collection of individuals it is an outstanding portrayal of one man’s love affair with the people and places that have shaped his past, present, and future.

You can connect with Benny when he hits up the Currumbin RSL for their deck acoustics on Saturday 21 December, and he’s pretty active on socials so hit them up for his upcoming performances around the coast.

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