Benjy Ferree

Come Back to the Five and Dime Bobby Dee Bobby Dee

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The story of child actor Bobby Driscoll is a tragic one. The fall he took from starring in Disney's Treasure Island and providing the voice for Peter Pan to dying strung out and alone at age 31 was swift and helped along by Hollywood's (and Walt Disney's) cutthroat attitudes toward youth and beauty. There's probably a good movie that could be made from his story; Baltimore singer/songwriter Benjy Ferree thought it was good material for a concept album. Come Back to the Five and Dime Bobby Dee Bobby Dee is his tribute to Driscoll and a heartfelt musical document of broken dreams and cast aside souls. As with his previous album Leaving the Nest, the sound is rooted in the blues and good old American rock & roll, but this time out there's a little bit of glam floating around the fringes, a little more psychedelic weirdness and album rock heaviness that creeps in here and there. No doubt he added these elements because you can't make a concept album without thinking of David Bowie or Pink Floyd or, if you have hipster cred, the Pretty Things. Also in the tradition of concept albums, the story ends up kind of muddled and there isn't really a narrative you can follow, but what comes through strongly is Ferree's obvious connection with the subject matter. You can hear it in the singing and feel it in the lyrics, especially on the songs like "Blown Out (Gold Doublooons and Pcs of 8") and "When You're 16," where the references to Driscoll's life are harrowingly clear. So the emotion is there, the subject matter is good...what could go wrong? Two things turn out to be major problems with Come Back. First is the lack of imagination in the arrangements and sound of the album. Ferree plays things very straight, never doing much of anything interesting musically. There are lots of derivative bluesy guitar riffs and sludgy tempos and the album is saddled with a general lack of variation in the sound. (This criticism doesn't hold for the vocal arrangements though, which show much more willingness to go outside of the conventional rock format.) Unfortunately, the lead vocals are problem number two. Ferree mostly sings in an affected croon, eerily reminiscent of Jack White's most affected vocal stylings. It goes beyond an acquired taste and becomes a major distraction as you wish he would just calm down a little and sing the words instead of constantly acting them out. If he had moved some of the artifice in the vocals over to the musical end of the equation, there might have been enough balance to make the album work. As it is, Come Back can only be considered a noble attempt at something Ferree just didn't have the skills to pull off. Sticking to a more subdued and straightforward approach like he exhibited on his previous, far superior, album might just be the way to go in the future.

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