Ontario-born Ben Wilkins was already a well-rounded musician, having studied classical music at Montreal’s McGill University and spent his post grad studies in Shanghai, China, when he began working with musical producers Pascal Shefteshy and Pierre Marchand (Sarah McLachlan, Rufus Wainwright) to put together his debut album.
The warm classical pop sound permeates most of this album, but the disjointed “Opening” has a mix of indie jazz percussive effects, piano and classical strings contrasting Ben’s clean vocals. It sounds like he has thrown everything but the kitchen sink into the mix to let us know he’s avant garde.
But what comes next is nothing short of a revelation. “Soup for One” is a perfect amalgam of Ben Folds and George Michael, with a simple piano chord that grows into a lushly orchestrated melody. The arrangement and vocals here are pitch perfect and draw you into his world. “Through to You” leans more to the sound of Ben Folds or Adrian Whitehead, with slick harmonies and clean horns.
Next comes the beautiful arrangement of “The Fall,” full of minor chords and Pet Sounds styled orchestration. “The Back of My Head” adds a bit of Stevie Wonder styled funk to the melody, but at over four minutes, it drags on too long. A few tracks are guilty of trotting out a melody and having it overstay its welcome, including “The Road Is Long”.
However, it isn’t long before you get the crown jewel of the album, “Allison.” It starts with a sweet, bouncy melody and ukulele and leads to a gorgeous middle eight. An impressive song that will linger with you, but Ben doesn’t belt out the main melody here, instead it feels like he’s holding back a bit.
The album ends on the gentle, multi-tracked harmonies of “Waltz to the Other Side.” Despite the minor shortcomings, this album is a complex mix of classical pop influences that is sure to impress any audiophile and music fan. I expect much more from Mr. Wilkins, as he has the potential to be the next pop superstar.
Buy the album here.