Artist to Listen For: Benjamin Wagner

I’ve caught two of Benjamin Wagner‘s performances over the past year and both were incredibly solid, impressive sets. Performing for over 10 years throughout various New York venues, Wagner is one singer-songwriter you should check out if you haven’t yet. His latest album, The Invention of Everything Else, is a strong lyrical and musical album. Most of the songs on the album are a mix of acoustic rock and slower ballads. When in play, the entire album takes you away from reality which for a musician, is a good thing.

The Invention of Everything Else encompasses an album full of raw, honest emotion. In “The Last Time” the listener feels exactly what Wagner is singing throughout the song, not always an easy feat for a singer-songwriter. Lyrics, “Write our names in black and white on the freeway so you see it/And maybe you’ll notice the lengths that I’m going to/I believe I’m going down for the last time, the last time/I’m afraid nothing I can do, oh no/I believe I’m going down for the last time, the last time/Baby it’s you” let the reader envision the story being told in the song.

“Giving Up the Ghost” opens up the album with a strong guitar presence in the middle of the song, somewhat reminiscent to Gin Blossoms’ “Follow You Down.” This song segues nicely into an edgier, catchier track “Trying to Tell You.” Positively the most up-beat track on the album, the faster guitar rhythm accentuates Wagner’s vocals extremely well.

Throughout much of the album, instrumental interludes flow perfectly breaking up the lyrics and music effectively with guitar, drumming and light tambourine features. “(I Won’t Let You) Get Away” has this feel as well. A much slower track, Wagner’s acoustic singing and light guitar playing achieve that laid back, tell-all, emotional feel. Constant repetition of lyrics, “I won’t let you get away from me” communicate his yearning to be heard.

In fact, most of the songs on The Invention of Everything Else are ballads. “Promise,” one of the strongest lyrical tracks, sounds like the quintessential wedding song. Lyrics such as “I promise you at the end of the day/In your darkest blue, in your deepest grey/I will sing to you, keep your demons at bay/I will see you through, I will shoulder the weight,” exhibit Wagner’s prowess as a songwriter, allowing the listener to delve into his inner psyche.

While the first two tracks incorporate more fun, up-beat, rock show type songs and the remainder makes up more of an emotional journey, The Invention of Everything Else progressively reveals its depth. Not incredibly overproduced, this album has the stripped down feeling of watching a performance in an intimate, local venue. One of the strongest songs on the album is somber “Secrets & Lies.” The slow guitar strumming encompassing the song seems simple, but so deep in meaning when listening closer to the lyrics and realizing this epitomizes the emotion of the story. This song differentiates from the more optimistic chronicles throughout the beginning of the album. Wagner sounds much older than his years on this track, a bit reminiscent of Bob Dylan.

With praising reviews from R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe calling Wagner a “future superstar” and VH1 News referring to his songs as “Timeless,” Benjamin Wagner is one artist to look out for. His songs are likely to stay in your head long after the last chord is played.

You can preview the album on iLike or MySpace and if you dig, check out Authentic Records to buy the album or iTunes for the album plus two bonus tracks — covers of Oasis’ “Wonderwall” and a favorite summer song of mine, Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer.” Benjamin will also be performing September 20 and September 25 at Rockwood Music Hall so be sure to catch a show if you’re in NYC!