Escape, intimacy and self-reconciliation. Isle of Wight artist Ben Stubbs offers mature music and lyrics for those experienced in the business of living.
Release Date: 29th September 2023
Label: Self Released
Isle of Wight singer-songwriter, musician and producer Ben Stubbs has been around for quite a few years, but the odds are that, like me, you’ll be unfamiliar with his work. And that’s a shame, because, on the evidence of Light of My Life, his debut full-length album, you, like me, will have been missing a wholly satisfying blend of pop, rock and country, as well as some of the most mature music and lyrics – lyrics that will resonate strongly with those of experienced and possibly jaded by the business of living your lives.
Ben cites Neil Young, John Mayer, Jack Johnson, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Bruce Springsteen amongst his influences and there’s a trace – or more – of each of those in the ten songs that make up Light of My Life. And, if I’m not being too presumptuous, I would perhaps add James Taylor to that list – Ben shares the same kind of honey-sweet larynx that made Mr Taylor’s early work such a delight, and applies that larynx with exactly the same effect.
Ben’s recording career started as long ago as 2013, when he released his first EP, Songs From Cherrytrees, a short collection of songs that he wrote during a sojourn in Poitiers, France. Since then, he’s recorded and released a string of singles, as well as spending an extended period of time in Thailand, before returning to his native Isle of Wight in 2019. The songs that, only now, have made their public appearance on Light of My Life began their lengthy gestation then and, between then and now, Ben has spent his time honing and refining the songs – and, I have to say, that’s been time and effort well-spent; Light of My Life is a delightful album.
Recorded at Empire Sound Studio in Newport – the island’s capital – Light Of My Life features a band of hand-picked local musicians and it’s clear that these guys are no slouches. The musicianship and vocals are impeccable throughout and Ben’s production is pristine. Light of My Life is a glorious listening experience. But, it’s perhaps Ben’s imaginative, perceptive lyrics that provide the most distinctive feature of Light of My Life; in his songs, he reflects upon escape, nostalgia, aging and, particularly, coming to terms with himself and his past, and he does so in such a way that listeners can’t help but conduct their own similar bouts of self-analysis.
It’s one of the best opening lines that I’ve ever heard that gets Light Of My Life underway, as Ben kicks off opening track Stop the World by singing: “Since the day that I arrived, I’ve travelled 18 billion miles around the sun.” And if a line like that doesn’t make you reconsider your perspectives, then you’re obviously not really listening! The song also introduces Ben’s intimate, engaging vocal style, and the jangly guitars, solid, throbbing bassline and soaring pedal steel set the scene for the treats to come. The lyrics to Live And Let Live – “Live and let live, love and be loved – you never know when your time is up” are an example – are, perhaps even more relevant in light of the recent events in Israel and Gaza. The song is a vibrant country rocker, with piano and a solid drumbeat providing the drive, and acoustic and electric guitars sprinkling the seasoning.
And the lyrics to Social Media State are equally challenging and topical. Ben’s voice is warm and reassuring, despite the foreboding in lyrics like “We sold our soul to Facebook, and now they’re selling our dreams,” and the whole thing is delivered to a light, calypso-flavoured guitar lick.
Like the album itself, title track Light Of My Life is dedicated to Ben’s long-term partner, Abi. It’s a good, honest, direct love song that credits the brightness that a loving partner can bring into a relationship – to a stripped-back accompaniment of strummed acoustic guitar and some light-touch piano. In complete contrast, the sound on Perpetual War is full and funky; it’s a track that demonstrates, as much as anything on the album, the care and attention paid to the production to ensure that all instruments are in perfect balance – each discernable, none dominant.
The sentimental, comforting, Cocoon is another song that’s clearly inspired by Ben’s relationship with Abi and, as he shared the vocal delivery with an unnamed female vocalist, I found myself wondering if it was the revered Abi herself that I was listening to. The song is a Beatle-ish anthem with piano and acoustic guitars proving a rousing backing.
The influence of Bruce Springsteen is, perhaps, most evident (and not just in the song’s title) on Driving In The Dark – the album’s lead single. Ben describes the song as: “… being about the time of year when the daylight hours are at their shortest, the days seem dark and depressing, or you feel stuck in a place, job or relationship that you are not happy in. It’s a rallying cry to break those ties and find somewhere, something or someone that makes you happy. Life’s short and you have to do whatever it takes to find and keep happiness.” The Springsteen flavour comes across in the crisp drumbeat and the pulsing bassline and Ben puts his message across as he urges us to “Chase the sun around the world.” It’s a song that, despite the lyrical references to the dark days of winter, is packed with optimism and celebration.
With lines like: “In the back of my mind, there’s violence deep inside – and it’s begging me to let it out to play,” Ben pulls no punches in his self-examination in the bluesy Raised By Man, before he moves on to persuade himself to savour what life has to offer in the charming Your Life Is OK, the latest single cut to be taken from the album. It’s the track on which Ben’s voice most closely recalls James Taylor’s and the song is lifted by some heavenly flourishes of pedal steel. And the line: “Your life is beautiful, in fact – try not to give yourself a heart attack” is a wonderful takeaway.
Closing track Forgetting Paradise is a low-key ending to an album that’s crammed with insightful introspection, but the message that life isn’t anywhere near as bad as it can sometimes threaten to feel is a consistent one, and the exquisite vocal harmonies would do credit to a Crosby, Stills and Nash song!
Light Of My Life is, indeed, a splendid album, and Ben Stubbs is definitely a name to watch out for.
Listen to Driving In The Dark – the album’s lead single – here: