On his eponymous 2014 debut, Benjamin Booker roared and wailed, reveling in his debt to the garage-blues popularized by Jack White, but he's come a long way in the three years separating Benjamin Booker and its follow-up, Witness. Booker made a pilgrimage to Mexico in 2016, deciding that he needed a jolt of inspiration for his second album and, while he was there, he began to process the protests fueled by the rise of Black Lives Matters. Separated from his home country, he viewed himself as a spectator to what was happening in the U.S. and, combined with how his own ethnicity was accepted in Mexico, it inspired him to write the incendiary Witness. His personal embrace of the political galvanizes the album, which has a sense of purpose lacking on his debut, but what's truly startling upon first listen is how Booker's broadened his palette considerably. Blues remains his foundation and he can still indulge in squalls of noise, but there's a heavy soul vibe here and, crucially, Booker is embracing modern production. That much is clear from the way "Right on You" opens with burbling electronics before descending into a rocking riff that grooves harder than anything on his debut. Witness is filled with these kinds of left turns, ranging from the folk-soul of "Motivation" and the old-fashioned Southern soul of "Believe" to the psychedelic thrum of "Truth Is Heavy." This aural variety alone would make Witness an exciting record, but when these sounds are paired with probing political and personal songs, the album becomes something fresh and vital.
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine