Combining timeless melodies with a contemporary folk-rock twist, singer-songwriter Ben Caplan explores the immigrant experience with profound understanding and wry humor on his latest album, Old Stock. Adapted from the acclaimed music-theater piece Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story, the genre-warping album is inspired by the true story of two Jewish Romanian refugees coming to Canada in 1908. Through their travails, Caplan weaves a captivating concept album that reflects on modern issues from immigration to religion to sexuality through his dark, funny, and urgently heartfelt songs.
Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story has been an international smash hit, winning dozens of awards and performing extended theatrical runs in more than 20 cities. Between theatre performances, Ben Caplan has been touring these songs with his magnificent band. With his enormous beard, unruly mane, intimately booming voice and beguiling charm, Caplan brings a striking presence to the stage.
The singer-songwriter, fulltime family man and part-time farmer lives on his own grid, growing his own produce and raising his own livestock. “It’s a labor of love,” he says. “That’s actually a good way to describe my music. “I don’t want to do anything with my music, with my life, with anything that I do that doesn’t involve love. … I’ve just gone through so many things in my life, especially with music — I’ve gone from rock ’n’ roll to punk to all this different stuff, folk music — it all boils down to doing what I do because it makes me feel good. … My music is a personal thing, just like this farm.”
Though Burton retired his punk stripes and stepped away from his musical supporting roles to go solo in 2014, that year’s underrated, under-the-radar, acoustic-driven LP Don’t Let the World See Your Love just barely scratches the surface of what the singer delivers on his latest, Songs Of. Due out on vanguard Canadian indie label Dine Alone Records, and cut at Nashville’s The Bomb Shelter studio with producer Andrija Tokic (Alabama Shakes, Hurray for the Riff Raff) and session musicians who play for the likes of Margo Price and Daniel Romano, the release brings a rich full-band treatment to the Nick Drake-worthy ghostly vocals, contemplative verses and effortless melodies.
Songs Of standouts like the country-gospel weeper “Broken Hearts and Broken Chains” swells from clock-stopping serenity to a grand finale of pedal-steel and tabernacle-ready choir vocals that show just how deeply Burton is willing to fearlessly invest himself in this record. “There’s something about big, raspy gospel voices that bring just the right amount of drama and beauty to the mix. I’ve always been a bit dramatic, and I’ve always had an affinity for beautiful things,” Burton says, recalling without shame how, at 8 years old, he developed a deep relation with Michael Bolton’s overwrought take on Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman.”
By contrast, the album’s uplifting “Unmistakable Love” offers an optimistic view of what can become of the brokenhearted. “It’s the first love song I ever wrote that didn’t end in complete and total misery,” Burton explains. “It reminds me of the start of making my family, although it may or may not be about that.”
And the wistful “End of the Summer” finds Burton ruminating on the most valuable thing a human being has to offer this world — themselves. “I wrote that song for a friend in a time of need,” Burton recalls. “There are many things that fill you with warmth and love in this world, but none stronger than the company of good people. … When you write a song for a friend, every time it’s played, it brings thoughts and memories of such feelings. At least for me” Burton might make music for himself, but it’s music that resonates with an emotional core and sage wisdom that all good people can relate to.