January 08, 2005

Jay Bennett "The Beloved Enemy"

Jay Bennett’s second album of 2004, The Beloved Enemy, is a record that’s both beautiful and difficult. Considering his pedigree (which, by now, doesn’t really need to be reexamined, does it?), making complex country-styled music is not surprising, nor is it that he’s making beautiful, touching music. His previous record, Bigger Than Blue, offered enough hints that he would soon take a dive into deeper, darker waters, and The Beloved Enemy is most certainly that.

Throwing off convention that would cause him to restrain from revealing the depths of his personal pain was a wise choice. In so doing, it’s made his music even more emotional. Just take a listen to “My Little Valentine.” Bennett’s voice is, at best, quite uncomfortable to listen to; he takes Tom Waits’ trademark style and runs it through an emotional wringer, making it even rougher and gruffer; as the song progresses, Bennett’s voice grows harsher, more difficult to understand and even more painful. Like my father used to say, “The blues isn’t a sound, it’s a feeling”—and “My Little Valentine” is an emotional massacre.

Multiply that song by eight and you’ll have the formula for The Beloved Enemy.
Let’s not get caught up in overlooking the real pain in his voice, either. “Audrey” sounds like it could be Bob Dylan, circa Blood on the Tracks. The extremely sad “I Want You Back” is a simple song with an even simpler message—Bennett’s heartbroken, and he realizes the errors of his ways.

Two songs save The Beloved Enemy from being an almost pathetic portrait of a man in pain. “If I Forgot To Land,” featuring guest vocals by Michelle Anthony, is a touching duet that thematically shows that Bennett is really not alone after all, that someone’s there to pull him out and give him love, no matter how painful his situation may be. Then there’s the album closer, an interesting cover of Tori Amos’ “Pretty Good Year,” which he makes even more interesting with his deadpan vocals and his experimental take of her music. Thematically it closes the album quite nicely, leaving the listener with a feeling that Bennett’s trying to say that “though my life was bad, in retrospect, my life was pretty good after all.” In fact, he even says as much in his liner notes, where he thanks Amos for “providing what I couldn’t seem to find inside myself—a period to this sentence.”

The Beloved Enemy is not an easy listen. Even at thirty eight minutes, it’s still a very hard album to sit through, because the emotional content is SO high. Bennett’s a talented man, and though it’s a difficult record, The Beloved Enemy is also a very moving record. Here’s hoping that 2005 will be a better year.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.jay-bennett.com
Label Website: http://www.undertowmusic.com

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