Berlin is the frenetic fourth release from Vermont native Ben Patton, who continues to foster his reputation as a mysterious musical vagabond. Written during what were, in the singer’s words, “adventures too incredible and complex to relate,” the disc is a kind of musical journal documenting his travails of two years ago — many of which transpired in the album’s namesake city. Recorded in various locales around the globe, these 18 tracks rely heavily on the multi-instrumentalist’s trademark story-driven songwriting framework. And the world through the eyes of Ben Patton seems a rather hospitable and friendly place.
Patton — the son of noted local Gypsy-jazz maestro Will Patton — projects a resolute optimism that’s rare in music these days, pop or otherwise. And he can say a lot with a little. His work is catchy and enthusiastic, theatrically complex yet technically spry. But his unadorned honesty is either infectiously good-humored or irritatingly goofy, depending on how you feel about this mesh of indie-pop show tunes.
The dramatic “Over the Ocean Oh” demonstrates Patton’s vocal splendor. His impressive range cannot go without mention. As with many of the songs on the record, it is modest, with a strain of soft-spoken dignity. Patton and a sort of barbershop chorus are expertly fused with layers of warm guitar and glossy brass.
Patton’s theater-infused styling takes center stage on tracks such as “I’m Gonna Turn My Life Around.” Again, a cadence of brass complements the singer as he becomes something of a motivational Burt Bacharach — or a more approachable Jonathan Richman. “I’m guaranteed to meet some obstacles / But I’ll beat those barriers down,” he sings. Those giants are just a few of Patton’s more obvious pop influences. But his allegiance is restrained, his originality unquestionable.
The ebullient “She Wants to Go Skiing” could be the record’s highlight. She skis. He doesn’t. What unfolds is a witty surf-rock gem as Patton croons, “All she wants is to ski / So I guess that’s it for her and me / It’s all downhill from here.”
Patton’s area holiday performances are becoming an annual tradition for his tightly knit fan base. He’s slated to perform selections from Berlin in a show at Burlington’s FlynnSpace this Saturday, December 20. Expect Patton’s wholesome medley and clever yarns to be in full, festive display.