CD Review: SONGS FROM THE LION (Benjamin Scheuer on Paper Music Records)

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by Tony Frankel on June 24, 2016



Writer/performer Benjamin Scheuer’s one-man autobiographical song cycle, The Lion, has certainly caught fire since it premiered under a different name at the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. His very successful productions in New York and London have resulted in a current national tour which coincides with the CD release of his Songs from the Lion. In the show, the songs, which are separated by anecdotes, cover the period of his life from childhood to his twenties, and orbit the singer’s difficult relationship with his father, who died when Benjamin was 13. In a different life the father might have been a musician; in the one he had he was an Ivy League-educated lawyer and math professor married to a beautiful British expatriate. But it was his father’s guitar playing that little Benjamin was desperate to emulate.

The songs on this engaging CD, which also cover both a relationship and Scheuer’s own battle – and ultimate cure – from cancer, are in a different order than the show. It’s a wise choice. This highly recommended effort is less original cast album and more of a mood evoker as it evenly rolls from engaging to child-like to dramatic, but all 15 tracks fit squarely in the realm of folk (with some rock sprinkled in). In the show, Scheuer accompanies himself on six different guitars; here, he is backed by his own band.

Apparent from the start and radiating throughout the 40-minute journey is Mr. Scheuer’s radiant charisma and earnestness. His straightforward singing and guitar playing are moving and solid, and his spiritual and emotional investment is penetrating. You can also sense a sparkle and vulnerability – that’s quite a feat on a recording.

It’s clear that he isn’t out to emulate Joni Mitchell, but occasionally the lyrics lack a poetic strength and can be clunky. Sometimes, I find myself repeating phrases and singing them over and over (“My father has an old guitar and he plays me folk songs”) while others land unevenly on the ear (“And I’ll never board a sailboat without thinking fondly of him”). I don’t point this out as a flaw, but as a note that – while it may be advantageous as storytelling in a show – the lyrics aren’t at the quality of the songwriting, performance and musicianship.

Still, there’s a beautiful blend of bittersweet memories and gratitude that shines brightly. I have listened multiple times and I always find something comforting, mesmerizing and life-affirming going on here.

Songs from The Lion
Paper Music Records
available at Amazon and iTunes
for more info, visit Benjamin Scheuer and The Lion Musical

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