Marco Benevento has explored a melange of musics over the years, while making jazz the core. With Between The Needles & Nightfall (The Royal Potato Family), he is bobbing and weaving out of the boundaries some fans and critics have placed on him, and he’s going for his.
The first few songs on the album sound like they’re from Paul McCartney‘s 1970 debut solo album, in fact the military-style drums of “Greenpoint” may make you whistle the countermelody of 1976’s “Let ‘Em In”. “Between The Needles” has a McCartney-type playfulness to it, from that full, round bass guitar sound to the majestic piano playing that Benevento has turned into one of his signatures, and once you reach this part of the album, you realize this isn’t just a normal “I have a muse, this is it, I’ll call it an album” thing. “Two Of You” reminds me of a modern day Vangelis or Frank Mills, not sure if it’s because the music is so friendly or it reminds me of good music of the past, but then add a drummer who plays the funk out of his drums, the kind of drumming where you feel it doesn’t belong in music like this but you’re welcome he had taken off his shoes? It’s a comfortable music, almost easy listening, with occasional nods to “Hey Jude” or something Purple Rain-ish, maybe even something from the country music vaults if Thom Yorke got a hold of it. Normally, this is the point of the album where other journalists will say “I’ve listened to enough, this justifies a review” but I’m not like that. The album only gets better from this point on.
“Numbers”… I have to say it, I don’t know if Benevento smokes weed, but if he does, it must’ve been a potent batch because this song sounds like it was recorded in Jamaica: dub mixed in with a bit of circuit bending and some Mellotron that he fixed up, the song feels like it’s dancing in different eras and somehow feels very modern. If Amy Winehouse is going through a personal hell, Benevento has created the template in his version of “You Know I’m No Good”, taking it back to the 1960’s for a retropective feel but taking it to Capitol Recording Studios and giving it that nice echo chamber pop feel that David Axelrod would love and pass a joint to, or if the Booker T. & The MG’s were the house band for Capitol, this is what it would sound like.
The album goes through a lot of moods, the happy songs aren’t overly sappy and those drenched in melancholy keep you listening because you know there’s optimism at the end of the tunnel. At the same time, one can imagine this being backing music for a wide range of singers, with Benevento offering his services to what ends up being an audience of three or four. In other words, having no takers allows the music to shine and develop on its own merits, it’s vocal-less on purpose. This could be a pop album for indie rock fans, it could be this year’s answer to a pop masterpiece, and yet that ingenuity comes from Menevento’s songwriting craft, musicianship, and arranging that is truly a lost art, and yet he combines that with the fervor of a kid in the studio discovering that combining one wire to another component of the same device will lead to unintended sounds.
He’s smart like a purist, but smarter like someone who defies convention. Maybe that place Benevento describes Between The Needles & Nightfall is the mythical place we aspire to be and resist, the yin and yang, the good and bad, la bien/la mal. If this is that fine balance between good and evil, I hope he’ll continue to pack lunches and spend awhile there. Benevento has found his bowl of cherries, and this is his pie.