Ben Caplan & The Casual Smokers

Ben Caplan & The Casual Smokers

It's time. It's time Ben Caplan gave his legions of fans what they've been waiting for these four
long years. After criss
-
crossing Canada and the US, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and some
dozen countries across Europe, Caplan has finally stopped long
enough to deliver the long
-
desired follow
-
up album to his 2011 debut,
In the Time of the Great Remembering
. Welcome
then, to
Birds with Broken Wings
.
"I think it could have been time for a new album years ago," admits our hir
sute hero. "but
I
wanted to
take my time and honour the process. There was a lot to learn. I wanted to make an
album that was complex but with room for strangers to find their way into it. I wanted to
collaborate with people who inspire me and discover unexpected things. It takes ti
me."
It turns out this could be the best record you'll hear all year. Caplan has moved his sound by
leaps and bounds, his soul
-
fired, charismatic music exploding out in surprising new directions.
Along the way, he joined forces with over 30 different mu
sicians, a raft of unconventional
acoustic instruments, and the hottest production/ar
ranging/mixing team imaginable. The eleven
songs that make up
Birds with Broken Wings
range from angry and edgy to dramatic and
inspirational, to some of the most unconve
ntional and beautiful work Caplan or anyone else has
made. All your expectations of what a Ben Caplan album could be are met, but you'll also hear
him like you never believed you would. You'll get that blustery, raspy, fire
-
and
-
brimstone force
of nature,
but then he'll woo you with rich and delicate vocals as lovely as any you've heard.
The album took a long time, and great care went into it, but that's only part of the journey. Most
of it was spent on the road. Since the release of his first album, Ca
plan has played well over a
thousand shows. He was on the road from eight to ten months of each year. Many bands don't
play that many gigs in their entire career.
Why so much? "Because I want to live this music,
and that's the only way I can think of
to do it," Caplan explains. "To afford the luxury of
developing your craft for a living, it's either winning the lottery or working your ass off."
That hard work has paid off, as Caplan has built a loyal fan base that stretches from the U.S., to
most of
Europe, and of course, coast
-
to
-
coast in Canada. When he launched a Pledge
campaign to fund the new album, the full target goal was reached in just 48 hours. "I'm very
fortunate that going into my second record I have a spectacular platform," he confides.
"I have
over 20,000 fans engaged online and listeners in more than 30 countries. I have this broad
international fan base, but it's all a little under the radar. I wanted to make a record that my
audience would be excited to hear and that they would be e
xcited to share.”
It's no surprise that the seeds of the alb
um were sown on tour.
Caplan was already a fan of
Montreal producer and rapper Josh "Socalled" Dolgin, known for his unique blend of hip
-
hop
and klezmer. Even though they both live in Canada, Cap
lan only met him by chance while
touring in Eastern Europe. "I met Socalled at the Green Zoo festival in Poland," he explains. "I
found out he was playing, and I had been trying to answer the question of who was going to
produce the album for months at tha
t point. I went to his set, hoping to meet him and find out if
we could work together. Seeing him perform live and the way that he unpretentiously flowed
between different styles, fusing seemingly disparate genres, really captured my attention. After
seein
g his set, I knew I had to work with this guy. I am grateful he signed on!"
"We got crazy with instrumentation and arrangements and bringing in guest musicians, more
than 30 different players on the record," say Caplan, still spinning from the process.
"We
recorded for weeks, 10
-
hour days, grabbing sounds, and re
-
doing this and overdubbing that,
bringing in new people and recording things that we knew we might not use, but that could
perhaps provide those juicy little moments. We spent days upon days, w
eeks, almost as much
time as we spent recording it, maybe more, editing it, and hacking everything down to its most
essential moments."
It's perhaps the most eclectic group of musicians ever found in one set of credits, including the
great James Brown a
nd P
-
Funk trombonist Fred Wesley,
who arranged one cut.
"We got the
principal harpist from the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal to come throw down some harp,"
adds Caplan. "We got the amazing Joe Grass from Patrick Watson's band on pedal steel,
alongside
Mohamed Raky, a darbouka player from North Africa. And the cimbalom player,
Nicolae M
ă
rgineanu, he used to be the conductor of the Moldavian Symphony Orchestra, and
was once a professional concert cimbalomist. I guess there aren't a lot of concert cimbalom
gigs
in Canada so perhaps he's a hidden gem. I feel very privileged to have worked with him."
Remarkably, with all those players and choices, the album turned out uncluttered, and an aural
delight. "The last step was taking to this mixer in Paris, this
guy Renaud Letang," says Caplan.
"In my mind, Renaud is the top of the top. He's an unknown to most fans of music, but his ears
have had a major impact on a ton of records people know and love. He did all the Manu Chau
albums, he mixed the last three or f
our Feist albums, and all the recent Gonzales stuff, Alain
Souchon, Seu Jorge, and on and on. His mixes are always super clear and beautiful. I really
think he's a untouchable. And the vocals are always very clear. With the plethora of sounds on
this album
, I wanted to make sure we would have mixes where the vocals would still sit on top
and sound very clear. I didn't want all the ear candy to distract."
Those lyrics and themes are at the core of understanding Ben Caplan. "I try not to sing cliches,"
he a
dvises. "I'm fighting to make sure that any lyric I settle on will be something I can live with
for a long time." To that end, his songs are full of major topics of our time, holding a mirror up to
society so we can take a good, long look at ourselves. "I
like looking at the ugly bits, celebrating
the darkness and the nasty bits that are at the root of the sublime.”
The nasty bits include the title cut, a song about extremism in it's many forms and about people
who believe in pursuing ends without examini
ng the consequences of the means. The song
Dusk talks about the dangers of the oil economy. While those songs are among the most
energetic on the album, perhaps the quieter numbers stand out even more. Known for his lower
range and his great growl, here C
aplan is able to show off the impressive softer side of his
vocals, away from the stage.
That's heard the best in the beautiful and brave performance on Night Like Tonight. With its
woodwinds, brass, strings and vintage crooner arrangement, Caplan drops
the rasp from his
voice, adds trills and reaches high notes never heard before in his repertoire. He pulls it off
splendidly, as he does all the other themes, styles, and ideas overflowing on the new album.
Don't spend a lot of time worrying about what t
o call
Birds with Broken Wings
though. It defies
description, even to its creator. "I don't make dance music, but it's music that you'll want to move
to," he offers. "I don't know exactly what it is that I'm trying to do, I just do it. The instrumentatio
n
is very different from song to song. I don't ask myself what genre it is, and I don't let that trouble
me. That's why I wanted to work with Socalled, his albums aren't exactly hip
-
hop or klezmer, or
any of the many other things they get called. They ar
e always a thousand things rolled into one.
A profusion of diverse musical threads weaved into one tapestry."
Maybe that's the best description of Ben Caplan, a thousand things rolled into one. He's a road
warrior, an international presence, a one
-
of
-
a
-
k
ind performer. Now, he has the album to put him
on everyone's radar as well.

Spencer Burton

Spanning a musical life with hardcore beginnings, to the somber strings of his acoustic guitar in his country-folk infused solo project, Spencer Burton is a mainstay musical virtuoso.

Releasing simply under his own name, his new album 'Don't Let The World See Your Love' (and his third solo offering) was produced with Daniel Romano.

"I rode motorcycles, long and lonely, fell in with the wrong people, drank everything I could to pass the time and put the pain away," reflected Spencer of the days spent crossing Canada, culminating the muses and memories that would weave into the stories he's told on this new album.

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