I remember when the doctor told my ex-wife and myself that our oldest daughter had a heart murmur. Panic overcame me in a flash. I told myself to slow down just as quickly, however, ask questions, find out what’s going on here. I remember the doctor saying that, among the treatment options, surgery is a consideration. My pulse fluttered imagining my baby girl asleep on an operating table and her bird-like chest open for surgery. I thought I knew what fear felt like. I had no idea.
I will not compare ailments with Ben Bostick’s eldest daughter. My little girl is fortunate that her heart murmur soon resolved itself without further medical intervention and I want to believe a long and healthy life lies ahead for Bostick’s child. The story underlying his new release Grown Up Love, the songs emerging as an artistic response to his daughter’s diagnosis with Rett Syndrome, struck a deep chord within me.
The sound of the American South is rife throughout Bostick’s music but labelling him a regionalist is an error. Bostick’s stylistic breadth isn’t restricted by an over-reliance on one approach but, instead, succeeds thanks in no small part to the synthesis of textures he achieves. “Different Woman” is an outstanding opener for several reasons. One of its chief strengths is Bostick’s skills blending pathos with understated and intelligent humor. It broadens the experience of hearing his already fine lyrics.
The nuanced band performance features performance echoing that diversity. William Hollifield’s tenor saxophone and Chris Otts’ alto contributions add an important dimension to the arrangement crucial to its appeal and Cory Tramontelli’s fretless bass line effortlessly carries the song’s melody without ever overpowering listeners. “Shades of Night” is an exquisite composition and performance. Otts and Hollifield once again provide strong atmospherics that never strain for effect and the moonlit mood pervading the song is never melancholy.
It feels much more like exhausted gratitude, but even more. It’s about love never cracking in the face of life’s full frontal assault and the comfort two desperate individuals can take in each other when nearly everything seems against them. Bostick’s delicate vocal matches the song’s spirit and its straight-forward lyrical content has elements of a prayer. There aren’t enough songs like this in the world.
“The Diagnosis” is another artful highlight of this collection. It is a poetic tit for tat, in some ways, Bostick answering the medical world’s diagnosis with his own far wider indictment of the world at large. It is difficult to say this is a dark song, but it is intense. He wrestles with the song’s ideas and emotions with withering yet understated focus and his vocals are given a further spin by the relaxed confidence pervading each line. Including Kathleen Ray’s French Horn and Jonathan Mills’ vibraphone adds unexpected but fitting musical flavor.
One of the album’s best tracks is “The Myth of Translation”. The soulful bray Bostick brings to the song’s memorable payoff lines grabs your attention with a single listen and inspires you to play it again. Songs that hold up under frequent listens are in short supply and, arguably, always are. It’s a song that, through and through, explores our failures of communication with one another and the misconceptions we carry about this lynchpin of our lives. The unadorned beauty of the album’s finale “It Seems Like Only Yesterday” underlines for a final time, as if its needed, the personal nature of this release. Despite its autobiographical nature, however, Bostick hits an universal note that his target audience will respond to. The vulnerability and redemptive grace of Ben Bostick’s Grown Up Love makes it one of the year’s most affecting releases.