Ben L’Oncle Soul
Ben L’Oncle Soul couldn’t escape his fate. Even before he was born, his mother cradled him to Otis Redding and nursed him to Aretha Franklin. He grew up to the beat of Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Donny Hattaway and Marvin Gaye. He had no idea yet, but his kindergarten record collection already knew the name of his future employer: Motown. Proof, essentially, that the inhabitant of Tours has always been steeped in Berry Gordy Jr.’s label. Scouted by Motown France in 2008 after having posted his music on the internet, Ben is incessantly adding chapters to his childhood dream.
His performance training happened at breakneck speed; after having integrated the basics of singing in Gospel formations, he became L’Oncle Ben and quickly dove head first into the shark tank, opening for the big names in contemporary Soul, such as Musiq Soulchild, Raphael Saadiq, or India Arie, with whom he ended up on stage. Enough to conjure you up a character. Impassioned by Hip-Hop and encounters, the Tours native then collaborated with Hocus Pocus and Oxmo Puccino, but also with Beat Assaillant, with whom he went off on tour and established solid ties. After a joint track on the American MC’s album, Ben worked with the rapper on writing English text to his first album, self-entitled Ben L’Oncle Soul.
A name change when he signed with Motown prompted the release of his Soulwash EP at the end of 2009. Produced to air out his head during the recording of the album, it spread his expansive high spirits, thanks to a handful of covers as inspired as varied. In it, Ben revisits The Spice Girls, Gnarls Barkley, Aqua and The White Stripes in his own way. His version of the song “Seven Nation Army” (The White Stripes) opened doors for him from here to the moon, and bestowed upon him a beautiful notoriety. Not bad for an EP which was only intended as a lark!
With its wild quadratic form, this album resembles its author a great deal, because our friend Ben is not the type to complicate things. He is rather a mood igniter, always refusing to take himself seriously. On stage, where the jokes burst forth all over the place, on his album graphics, and of course in his music, as this first eponymous album attests to. A stellar piece of work, that goes from laughter to tears with a drum roll. An anti-gloom remedy, recorded in a garage in Belgium, in a studio jam-packed with vintage equipment and willing friends, the trumpet player, arranger and producer Guillaume Poncelet, and composer Gabin Lesieur, who also plays keyboard in concert. If most of his lyrics play with an enthusiasm for ordinary happiness and relationships going haywire, others prefer the half-light of more profound topics. The alcoholism on L’Ombre D’Un Homme, sung in a desperate and incantatory tone, but also the call for help on Partir, and his homage to Rosa Parks on Ain’t Off To The Back, where Shaft and Beat Assailant make explosive appearances.
Conscious but obstinately positive, Ben L’Oncle Soul offers up and emanates warmth, to the pitch of his splendid 60s palate. Stax brass and the melodies of Motown dance effortlessly without missing a beat, starting with Soulman, Ben L’Oncle Soul’s summer of ’69 hit! A heck of an introduction, which passes the often fatal test of french language soul, due to a flamboyant interpretation, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Nino Ferrer, and roguish lyrics. This ease with which he wields words and humor throughout the pieces gives a true modern edge to the whole nostalgic thing.
Ben’s groove is undeniably American, in terms of respecting the standards of the Motown genre, in that it remains soul music with a distinct pop influence (in Elle Me Dit, and Demain J’Arrête), but without any attempt to behave. At liberty to, the Soul Uncle additionally covers the old bow-tied crooners‘ range on Mon Amour, and the funky R&B of Stevie Wonder on I Don’t Wanna Waste on his flourishing collection of 60s standards written in 2010. As we know that Motown Records‘ nickname in the 60s was The Hit Factory, no doubt remains: Ben L’Oncle Soul really couldn’t escape his fate.