Ben Arsenault’s self-titled country record matches your mid-winter blues and offers some comfort too.
Halfway through January, I saw a headline that read something like, “Toronto hasn’t had a sunny day in more than three weeks.” While January has never been known for its sunshine, combined with rising food prices, housing crises, and wave after wave of the worst news you’ve ever read, this year’s prolonged dreariness has felt particularly wretched.
Ben Arsenault’s self-titled country record sounds as grey as the January sky. If you’re looking to escape your mid-winter blues, this recordis not it. But if you’re looking for a soundtrack that matches your mood, and to hear a little encouragement to help you through the gloom, here it is. In his words, Arsenault’s twangy melancholy is “a reaction to the pace of modern times.” In contrast to the high speeds of life, Arsenault’s songs are slow and steady. Tracks like “We’ll See” and “Snow on the Mountain” capture how every day can feel the same when you’re in a funk. “It’s the same old scene down every road,” sings Arsenault on the former track.
Torch & Twang Vol. 01 focuses on folk and country artists from across so-called Canada.
When Arsenault offers comforting words, the impact is akin to a phone call from a good friend when you need them the most. Album highlight “Hold On To You” holds space for lyrics like “…our dreams are nothing but crowns worn by losers…” and the starry-eyed line “I hold on to you when my hope is gone.” The pedal steel on the all-instrumental “Nowhere Else To Go” makes the song flutter like a snowflake caught in the wind, and it sounds like Arsenault is making peace with the present. Closing track, “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” also feels like an exhale as Arsenault gives your hand a squeeze and sings, “we’re all tired of being hard.”
The day after I wrote this review, the sun appeared. As I write this sentence, there has been a stretch of wonderful, albeit unsettling, spring-like weather. Toronto’s terrible mayor is resigning, and I bought myself some flowers. There is hope for better days ahead, after all.