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Ben Patton, 'Hyde's Hill Henhouse'

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Published July 6, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.


Ben Patton, Hyde's Hill Henhouse - COURTESY
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  • Ben Patton, Hyde's Hill Henhouse

(Self-released, digital)

Ben Patton is romantic to a fault. So admits the Burlington singer-songwriter on his new album, Hyde's Hill Henhouse. You could also say Patton is classical to a fault. Reaching deep into yesteryear, the multi-instrumentalist often composes songs so steeped in tradition that you might think he cribbed them from Cole Porter or Django Reinhardt. Listen to his 2019 album with Michelle Sudarsono, Our Follies, for an extended stay in Patton's reimagined golden age of pop-jazz.

Hyde's Hill Henhouse bears traces of that retro influence. You'd swear "Put on a Tie" — with slinky clarinet courtesy of Patton's sister, Anna — came from a Fred Astaire musical.

When Patton isn't playing jaunty vocal jazz, he veers into pop that similarly harks back to simpler times, when all you needed was a sparkling acoustic guitar and a sweetly crooned hook. He also has the quirkiness and bookishness of They Might Be Giants, a proud square peg.

Hyde's Hill Henhouse is mostly unserious and a lot of fun. Its opening title track initially sounds like something from a children's album. On listening to the first song, I momentarily thought the entire record was, in fact, meant for kids. Over a bouncily thrummed acoustic guitar, he introduces the song's colorful characters: a dozen hens, a rooster and a cat. Then he slides into some silly scatting: "A doo wack-a dingle dangle dum."

By the song's end, Patton assures the listener this is not children's music. "I woke and found the cat had brought me something it had murdered in the night / A little mouse without a head," he sings. Sure, Roald Dahl went there, but Raffi never did.

The rest of the record leaves the whimsy of its opener to enter a sweet, wry and definitely meant-for-adults space, though "My Own Monster" is an exception. A bit of a novelty, the song's dark themes of inescapable inner demons ("It's been with me chronically since puberty") are softened by theremin straight from a B movie horror flick.

"Don't Mention Jane to Jim" is a low-key acoustic jam with a cautionary message about handling some friends' messy breakup. After listing what you can talk about with the inconsolable Jim, including hot-button issues such as "taxation, immigration or inflation," Patton lands the song with a cute punch line: "You'll probably never bump into Jane / But if that should occur / Don't mention Jim to her."

"I Should Be Someone's Boyfriend" is as sweet as it gets. Another acoustic ditty, the song casts Patton somewhere between James Taylor and Kermit the Frog. He gives the ladies so many reasons to pick him: He's got flair, still has hair, is friends with Cher — what's not to love?

With Hyde's Hill Henhouse, Patton proves that he has nothing to prove. On every release, he's thoroughly his adorkable self. The album is available at benpatton.bandcamp.com.

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