Press Play: Benjamin Booker

   Benjamin Booker, the New Orleans based guitarist, released one of the best records of 2017 when Witness was made available to the world on June 2nd. Released through ATO Records, Witness is a followup to his self-titled debut album from 2014.

The 28-year-old musician has a unique sound that is easily recognizable. His voice is raspy, vocals soulful and is a major talent on the guitar. Booker’s latest effort is a mix of soul, blues, R&B, garage and punk. He cites such acts as gospel musician Blind Willie Johnson, the 60’s and 70’s psych rock group T. Rex and garage rockers the White Stripes as major influences. While all of this can be heard on his brand new album, there are deep societal undertones consistent throughout as well.

Witness is a profoundly personal album that has Booker serving up music lovers with an insightful composition of songs that deal with themes of racism and today’s social injustices. As an African-American who spent much of his youth in Virginia and Florida, he’s experienced first hand the degradation and dehumanization of racism. Through tracks like “Believe”, “Overtime” and “The Slow Drag Under”, which are among the best on the album, he sings of searching for faith in our society after he lost it over the painful events he periodically encountered in his youth. Over these songs, he sings of isolation, boasts of “want[ing] something to believe in”, and asks himself how he became such a “faithless man”.

Inspiration was also heavily drawn from the recent rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. For “Witness”, the title track off the album, Booker collaborates with the legendary gospel and soul musician, Mavis Staples. Over the course of this powerful song, Staples, a former voice for the 1960’s civil rights movement, repeatedly begs the question, “Am I gonna be a witness?”. With this chorus being accompanied by harsh lyrics of Booker’s that say “we thought…he had a gun” and “it looked like he started to run”, it quickly becomes clear this song pays homage to the tragic stories of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown whose deaths set into motion the Black Lives Matter movement.

Witness is an absolute masterpiece and will surely go down as one of the great albums of 2017. Benjamin Booker is currently embarking on a tour that has him traveling all throughout North America with summer stops in Poland, the United Kingdom, Portugal and Spain.