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Album Review: Ben Ottewell – Rattlebag

2 min read

With a distinctive voice that has drawn comparisons to Tom Waits and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, Ben Ottewell is more commonly recognised as one of three vocalists and the lead guitarist of English indie rock band Gomez. However, since the release of his debut solo album Shapes and Shadows in 2011, Ottewell’s solo career has taken off. Now he’s back with the follow up to this debut, a solo LP by the name of Rattlebag, which continues to showcase his unique vocals and guitar proficiency through a variety of raw, acoustic tracks.

ATOZ_JKTBen Ottewell approaches song writing simply, averaging three to four minutes a track with sections throughout the album stripped back to only soulful vocals and an acoustic guitar. The title track opens the album this way, with a minute-long riffy guitar introduction, which is soon paired with Ottewell’s unmistakable vocals. This simple opening eventually swells to an uplifting piano-driven anthem. Earthy and optimistic, this tune sets the mood for the following eleven tracks.

Gomez have always transcended the boundaries of genre. While they fit comfortably into the ‘indie-rock’ definition, they are known for their versatile sound that samples blues, alternative rock, folk and psychedelic. This versatility is also evident in Ben Ottewell’s solo work. Red Dress and Shoreline, for example, have many folk and country elements, especially in the guitars, which successfully combine twangy acoustic and slide.

The following track, Patience & Rosaries, is a gutsy standout. Ottewell is in a league of his own as far as both vocals and guitar mastery are concerned. His gravelly baritone dominates the fist two thirds of this track, demonstrating his impressively low and powerful range. He then further impresses with a stellar guitar solo, which instantly provides a burst of energy and finished the track on an unmissible high.

The vocal and guitar layering in No Place creates a psychedelic, earthy soundscape, which contrasts heavily with the following track Edge. With a strong driving guitar introduction and Ottewell’s classic Eddie Vedder-style vocals, this is a mature and accomplished track.

Rattlebag finishes off with a crisp live version of Patience & Rosaries, which caps off the album neatly with that impressive guitar solo.

With such a recognisable voice and unique approach to guitar, Ben Ottewell is such a major part of Gomez that it is difficult to separate him from his sound in the band. However, this simple acoustic approach is perfect for him as a soloist as it clearly showcases his talent, while allowing him to step off in a different direction from the band.  While he’ll always be one of the driving forces of Gomez, the potential for his solo success is great.