Ben Caplan & The Casual Smokers

Ben Caplan & The Casual Smokers

 Halifax, Nova Scotia, CAN
BandFolkSoul

Ben Caplan & The Casual Smokers play frenetic gypsy/folk anthems. Their music has flavours of Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, and European folk traditions. They tend to enter a song through the backdoor and do the unexpected. They are known for powerful vocals.

Band Press

Reeperbahn Festival 2012, Tag 3: "Too much, too much!" – Rolling Stone (Germany)

Dabei fing doch alles so gemütlich an: Um halb fünf fand man sich im Schmidt Theater ein, weil man inzwischen weiß, dass man bei Ray Cokes pünktlich zu sein hat. Der dritte und letzte Abend seiner Reeperbahn Revue war mal wieder formidabel besetzt und von Anfang bis Ende unterhaltsam. Jesus, der wie berichtet, schon am Vorabend im Publikum und später an der Bar auf der Bühne unter den Irdischen wandelte, durfte erneut seines Amtes walten und verweigerte schon wieder die Wein-zu-Wasser-Nummer. Erstaunlich, dass man diesen Gag auch noch einen zweiten Abend erfolgreich durchreiten konnte. Erster musikalischer Gast war der Kanadier Ben Caplan. Eine Erscheinung, die man nicht so schnell vergisst. Was zum einen an seinem Rauschebart liegt (für dessen Pflege er sich angeblich täglich Bananenmus hineinschmiert), zum anderen an seiner dunklen Stimme und zum dritten an seinem grandiosen Songwriting. Nach einem eher harmlosen Stück namens "Beautiful" zeigte Caplan am Klavier "einen anderen Ansatz meines Songwritings". Was folgte war das barseelige, bitterböse "Stranger", das ungefähr so klingt... Ach, was soll man es hier verzweifelt beschreiben und mit kruden vergleichen wie "Nick Caves Murder Ballads auf Suff" oder so kommen.

Reeperbahn Festival 2012, Tag 3: "Too much, too much!" – Rolling Stone (Germany)

Dabei fing doch alles so gemütlich an: Um halb fünf fand man sich im Schmidt Theater ein, weil man inzwischen weiß, dass man bei Ray Cokes pünktlich zu sein hat. Der dritte und letzte Abend seiner Reeperbahn Revue war mal wieder formidabel besetzt und von Anfang bis Ende unterhaltsam. Jesus, der wie berichtet, schon am Vorabend im Publikum und später an der Bar auf der Bühne unter den Irdischen wandelte, durfte erneut seines Amtes walten und verweigerte schon wieder die Wein-zu-Wasser-Nummer. Erstaunlich, dass man diesen Gag auch noch einen zweiten Abend erfolgreich durchreiten konnte. Erster musikalischer Gast war der Kanadier Ben Caplan. Eine Erscheinung, die man nicht so schnell vergisst. Was zum einen an seinem Rauschebart liegt (für dessen Pflege er sich angeblich täglich Bananenmus hineinschmiert), zum anderen an seiner dunklen Stimme und zum dritten an seinem grandiosen Songwriting. Nach einem eher harmlosen Stück namens "Beautiful" zeigte Caplan am Klavier "einen anderen Ansatz meines Songwritings". Was folgte war das barseelige, bitterböse "Stranger", das ungefähr so klingt... Ach, was soll man es hier verzweifelt beschreiben und mit kruden vergleichen wie "Nick Caves Murder Ballads auf Suff" oder so kommen.

Bringing the Blues – Queens Journal

If Ben Caplan’s tour bus caught fire, he knows exactly what he’d grab first.

“I’d get my guitar, then my keyboard, then my suit and then my yoga mat.” He and backup band The Casual Smokers are currently on tour with dates set for all around southern Ontario.

Caplan said the band is then heading to Quebec to finish off the tour’s first leg. They’ll soon head out east to play at the East Coast Music Awards in March.

Nominated for two awards for his Tom Waits style music, Caplan is self-described as “a blend between folk and blues, with a heavy dose of Eastern European jazz.” Caplan said he derives his musical inspiration from great songwriters.

“I think there’s songwriters like Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell whose lyrics are poetically informed — they have a universal approach to songwriting,” he said.

While writing his own lyrics, Caplan references his inspirations like Cohen, Dylan and Mitchell.

“Lyrics aren’t placeholders for melodies, those are much more important, but my songwriting comes from reading a lot of poetry as well.” Caplan said once his tour is finished, he’s going right back into the studio.

Pre-production starts at the end of the current tour, and he hopes to have his next album done by the end of the summer.

As the years of touring have accumulated, so has Caplan’s touring wisdom — for example, don’t speed down a German motorway.

Caplan recalls one European tour when the band was late for a show in Amsterdam and got lost on the way.

“We drove the wrong direction first, then we hit deadlock traffic on the German autobahn,” he said. “So we gunned it full speed down the shoulder lane.”

Caplan and the band ended up missing the show, and without any luck that day, the German police also pulled them over.
Ben Caplan recalls one instance while touring when speeding down a German highway to get to a show got him and his band into trouble with the German police.
Ben Caplan recalls one instance while touring when speeding down a German highway to get to a show got him and his band into trouble with the German police. (Supplied)

“The police officers were yelling at us in German and threatened to have us deported … I’ve learned a lot about touring since then, like you always want to leave a day early.”

Humble Haligonian Ben Caplan Masters and Reinvents Folk – The Concordian

He’s got a beard you could lose a guitar pick in, and he delivers a performance you can lose yourself in.

The music of Ben Caplan and the Casual Smokers is different from what a lot of musicians are doing. With his folk roots grounded in the music of Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, Caplan re-envisions the folk genre by drawing from Eastern European melodies and scales, the avant-garde and experimental jazz of John Zorn, as well as the classic blues and soul genres.

Their 2011 debut album entitled In the Time of the Great Remembering has some powerful songs, like “Conduit” which features a deep double bass rhythm, a whimsical horn section and Caplan’s powerful voice behind distorted fuzz.

The title of the album refers to the history of the human relationship with nature and the rest of the world. “We’ve forgotten a lot of things; we can speak of a time of great forgetting,” said Caplan, going on to explain how colonial Europe and the industrial era have swayed our way of thinking. “I am hopeful we can transition into a time of great remembering.”

The songwriter describes the band’s very recent selling-out of three shows in Halifax as “a wonderful blessing.” Once the tour of North America finishes, they will be heading to Australia and Europe where the band has a significantly large fan-base.

“My general philosophy is that nobody owes me shit,” said Caplan, addressing the common question of how a musician, quickly growing in success, plans to stay grounded.

Backstage before a performance, Caplan takes a few minutes to himself to warm-up his roaring voice and sip a little scotch. “Once I step onto the stage, there’s another level that I’m conscious of,” he said. He stresses the importance of engaging with the crowd and being fully present during each performance.

When it comes to the folk singer’s style of music and performance, Tom Waits and Freddy Mercury are two legends that he’s been compared to. “It’s scary and humbling to be compared to such masters,” said Caplan. Though Waits and Mercury’s styles of music differ dramatically, Caplan draws the link that both men are extremely dedicated performers. “I’m a hard-working guy […] and I plan to keep working on my craft every day.”

Caplan trudges around the world doing phone and radio interviews, has a bite to eat and performs for a new crowd each night. “It’s an exciting time to be working in this crazy entertainment industry,” he said. “I think a lot of change is under foot [in the music industry] and transition periods are the most fertile periods.”

These “fertile periods” are what allows the songwriter to dig into each performance and draw inspiration from different styles of music from around the world. Caplan is backed by the Casual Smokers, who are a group of musicians he can really trust, and this frees him do try things he couldn’t do performing alone.

The band will be going into the studio very soon to begin working on their new record. They’ve been touring nonstop and playing their new songs that will be released on the new record.

Caplan also hopes to release some collaborations with other artists within the year. The singer/guitarist describes himself as a live-based musician and finds a challenge in trying to translate this into a studio setting: “To me, the live is the most exciting part […] the studio stuff is a different beast that I’m still learning a lot about.”

Some of the inspiration for his new record comes from the open mic sessions held in Caplan’s Halifax living room which he opens to the public. He explains, “Constantly hearing songwriters from all over the place working out their material helps me gain perspective on my own.”

Humble Haligonian Ben Caplan Masters and Reinvents Folk – The Concordian

He’s got a beard you could lose a guitar pick in, and he delivers a performance you can lose yourself in.

The music of Ben Caplan and the Casual Smokers is different from what a lot of musicians are doing. With his folk roots grounded in the music of Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, Caplan re-envisions the folk genre by drawing from Eastern European melodies and scales, the avant-garde and experimental jazz of John Zorn, as well as the classic blues and soul genres.

Their 2011 debut album entitled In the Time of the Great Remembering has some powerful songs, like “Conduit” which features a deep double bass rhythm, a whimsical horn section and Caplan’s powerful voice behind distorted fuzz.

The title of the album refers to the history of the human relationship with nature and the rest of the world. “We’ve forgotten a lot of things; we can speak of a time of great forgetting,” said Caplan, going on to explain how colonial Europe and the industrial era have swayed our way of thinking. “I am hopeful we can transition into a time of great remembering.”

The songwriter describes the band’s very recent selling-out of three shows in Halifax as “a wonderful blessing.” Once the tour of North America finishes, they will be heading to Australia and Europe where the band has a significantly large fan-base.

“My general philosophy is that nobody owes me shit,” said Caplan, addressing the common question of how a musician, quickly growing in success, plans to stay grounded.

Backstage before a performance, Caplan takes a few minutes to himself to warm-up his roaring voice and sip a little scotch. “Once I step onto the stage, there’s another level that I’m conscious of,” he said. He stresses the importance of engaging with the crowd and being fully present during each performance.

When it comes to the folk singer’s style of music and performance, Tom Waits and Freddy Mercury are two legends that he’s been compared to. “It’s scary and humbling to be compared to such masters,” said Caplan. Though Waits and Mercury’s styles of music differ dramatically, Caplan draws the link that both men are extremely dedicated performers. “I’m a hard-working guy […] and I plan to keep working on my craft every day.”

Caplan trudges around the world doing phone and radio interviews, has a bite to eat and performs for a new crowd each night. “It’s an exciting time to be working in this crazy entertainment industry,” he said. “I think a lot of change is under foot [in the music industry] and transition periods are the most fertile periods.”

These “fertile periods” are what allows the songwriter to dig into each performance and draw inspiration from different styles of music from around the world. Caplan is backed by the Casual Smokers, who are a group of musicians he can really trust, and this frees him do try things he couldn’t do performing alone.

The band will be going into the studio very soon to begin working on their new record. They’ve been touring nonstop and playing their new songs that will be released on the new record.

Caplan also hopes to release some collaborations with other artists within the year. The singer/guitarist describes himself as a live-based musician and finds a challenge in trying to translate this into a studio setting: “To me, the live is the most exciting part […] the studio stuff is a different beast that I’m still learning a lot about.”

Some of the inspiration for his new record comes from the open mic sessions held in Caplan’s Halifax living room which he opens to the public. He explains, “Constantly hearing songwriters from all over the place working out their material helps me gain perspective on my own.”

Caplan Remembers When – The Coast

At first glance, Ben Caplan seems like a sage of east coast indie rock. After all, he sports a wizardly beard, screeches out a uniquely soulful sort of stripped-down folk, plays for gleeful crowds at massive fests like SXSW and is drawing legions of fans to local gigs like his shows at the Company House this week, two of which are sold out.

But Caplan hasn't always cast such a persuasive spell over Halifax's music scene. "Magical" certainly wouldn't be an apt term for the time he spent eking out meagre gigs here before releasing his lauded debut album, In the Time of the Great Remembering, in 2011.

"I fondly remember my first gigs playing for whisky at the King's Wardroom," Caplan says of his initially tipsy shows after moving here from Hamilton in 2005. "I think back to taking in enough of my King's Wardroom 'wages,' that I could barely stand by the end of the night, let alone play my guitar. It's lovely to look back on those days now, though my liver is probably pleased that things have changed a little."

The low point came during what he hoped would be a breakthrough. Caplan had managed to wrangle a headlining night at Gus' Pub, and he gave it his all—printing all the posters himself, buying an ad, seeking out a band willing to open for him. "Five people showed up," Caplan says, adding the dismal attendance wasn't the worst of it. "I had lost money on promoting it. The opening band belittled me and demanded that they get paid, even though the show was a bust and they hadn't brought anyone."

Then the PA toppled off its shelf and landed squarely on top of Caplan's laptop (which he had been using to record the show), shattering its screen and keyboard to smithereens.

Despite those considerable hiccups, Caplan couldn't have been happier to play, because the alternative was unbearable. In fact, some of those bitter pre-musical days are still inspiring his best lyrics. Take this from an untitled tune he's been tinkering with on his latest tour: "It's under control just as far as they've seen/but there ain't enough shit to climb out the latrine."

"I was revisiting my experience of trying to keep it together while I was in university, and drowning in a flood of overdue assignments and coping with depression. Fun times," Caplan says, adding that the monotony of those cripplingly everyday issues have made even his most stressful gigs pale in comparison. It also helps him appreciate his best shows all the more. A prime example would be a stop in Vlieland, just off the coast of the Netherlands, for a festival called Into the Great Wide Open this past summer.

"I played on a little stage, in the middle of the forest, with a clearing that fit about 300 people. About 1,000 people showed up," he says. "The whole forest was full of bodies appearing and disappearing into and out of the trees. The crowd went nuts for the set, and the rest of the time we were on the island, the rest of the band and I were treated like royalty. It was the best.

A long voyage across Canada – Metro News, Halifax

Willie Nelson sang about it and Jack Kerouac used it as a platform to write the great American novel. It's true there are many lessons one can learn while on the road.
"Canada is bloody huge," was the lesson Ben Caplan took away from his first cross-country tour. Originally from Hamilton, Ont., Caplan started Ben Caplan & The Casual Smokers while attending the University of King's College in Halifax, and it's been grabbing local attention for over three years. With a new album in the works, Nine Kinds of Trouble, planned to drop this summer, Caplan took a step away from the typical music industry formula.
"Traditionally a musician will put out an album then tour," Caplan, a Halifax resident, told me over coffee. "I wanted to stir up some self-promotion before the album goes out."
And so begins the Ben Caplan guide for a successful “We made money” first tour across Canada.
First step: Shameless preparatory promotional campaigning.
“I credit our success to organization,” Caplan pointed out. “I sent out press releases weeks in advance and had the posters up early.”
Second: Be realistic. Your ego can’t fill a venue.
“We were careful to book with bands that had a bit of a draw for themselves,” he said. “So we played to really great crowds.”
Lastly: Be creative.
Caplan took advantage of the “On-Board Musician” program offered by VIA Rail, a program that helps Canadian talent keep their focus on the music and not the cost of a train ticket. It’s a very competitive program, one that Caplan applied for ahead of time.

Siphoning through his memory Rolodex from coast-to-coast adventures, Caplan fondly remembers the kindness of strangers. Though we disagreed on his choice to ignore stranger-danger in Kingston. Could be the several maximum-security penitentiaries, but I’m a worrier.

Ben Caplan & The Casual Smokers’ "Conduit" - Track of the Day for February 10, 2010 – CBC Radio3

I get a lot of CDs and emails from artists who have honoured me by asking that I listen to their stuff. And, I can tell you that I listen to everything. Yes, it takes a while, but I do get to them all!
In December '09 I received an email from Ben Caplan in Halifax and he wrote that he fronts a band called Ben Caplan & The Casual Smokers. He also wrote that they are currently working on a full-length album, but there are a couple of live tracks on cbcradio3.com that he thought I might like. I finally got around to listening to them this past week, and Ben was right. I like it. I like it a lot!
The song I've picked to present to you all is from the live EP; you can tell because it has a really beautiful "rough around the edges" vibe that suits the song perfectly, sounding not unlike Tom Waits at his barroom best! Wicked, inventive playing and great delivery...
I cannot wait for the release of their full-length!

- Craig Norris

Ben Caplan & The Casual Smokers – Herohill.com

I'm an unapologetic Tom Waits fanatic. Everything about the man - from his music, to his persona, and even his eye for photos - just strikes a chord with me, so much that hearing anyone with a gruff voice described as Waits-y or some hybrid thereof (the ole whiskey worn or gargling glass voice) turns me off an artist before I even hear them. I usually turn to the terrific line from Matt Arbogast of The Gunshy, "this fucker sounds just like Tom Waits, Do we need another Tom Waits?”

The thing is, Waits trademark voice is only part of the equation. The music that accompanies his gruff delivery is of equal importance. That's why when you find an artist talented enough to deserve the comparison - like Halifax resident Ben Caplan - you start to look past the powerful voice and fixate on the notes that accompany it.

Caplan and his talented band - The Casual Smokers - will undoubtedly garner review after review build around on his voice, but even when they deliver the roughest of bar room stomps, there is a surprising depth and musicianship to the songs. Stand up bass, classical trained strings (violin and cello), flute, sax and terrific use of call and response sing-along choruses all help Caplan and the Casual Smokers stand out from the masses influenced by the same sounds.

They recorded a few songs in The Chapel at the University of King's College in Halifax and mixed them the next day. Considering the tight time lines, the result - three songs: Conduit, Beautiful and Stranger - capture the energy of the band and show the potential of the upcoming full length they have slated for later in the year. The five minute Stranger finds the band moving at a restrained pace, heightening the tension before Caplan's voice explodes and dares the strings and flute to balance the effort. Beautiful shows what happens when Caplan opts for a smoother, more melodic delivery and shows the band is more than a one trick pony.

I know it's hard to judge a band on a recording session that was turned out for grants in less than 48 hours, but the interesting dichotomy works and this new band is the type of discovery that keeps us blogging. For those lucky readers here in Halifax, Ben and his band of noise makers are ready to tear up the tiny Company House stage on Friday night. I'd highly recommend showing up.

BAND STRIKES ROOTSY CHORD - Ben Caplan & The Casual Smokers More Than Just a Party Band – The Dalhousie Gazette, Halifax, NS

BAND STRIKES ROOTSY CHORD
Ben Caplan & The Casual Smokers
More Than Just a Party Band
Rebecca Spence
Staff Contributor
When Ben Caplan came to the University of King’s College five years ago, he thought he was eventually going to get a PhD and become a serious academic. Today his friend and band-mate Emma Morgan-Thorp says she can’t see Ben doing anything but music.
“I bet he could get a PhD,” she says. “I know he has the brains. But I can’t imagine Ben not making music full-time.”
“When all you think about is music and all you care about is music, getting a degree in history, as interesting as it is, is hard,” says Caplan, 23. “Especially because music is a full time job, at least if you take it seriously.”
And when it comes to music, Caplan is a serious man.
He spent every day of the week last January sending out e-mails, working on press releases, and trying to book shows for his current project: Ben Caplan and the Casual Smokers.
At the moment, the band is composed of six core members. There’s Morgan-Thorp on cello, Neal Read on flute and saxophone, Signe Bone on violin, Asher Nehring on bass and Matt Gallant on drums. And then there’s Caplan, who supplies the group’s vocals and plays a plethora of instruments including guitar, banjo, melodica, harmonica and organ.
Caplan has seen almost 25 musicians come in and out of the Casual Smokers over the past three years. The current sextet is a fairly new lineup.
From the charismatic and sometimes crazy bearded guitarist to the poised and sexy violinist, the band represents a wide range of musical traditions – from the purest of classical backgrounds to traditional jazz and reggae.
On the other side of the spectrum, Caplan brings his own completely unique and non-classical perspective. He is entirely self-taught, having only had a couple of guitar lessons when he was about 12 years old.
Morgan-Thorp says the collaboration of musicians from various backgrounds helps work to the band’s advantage.
“I think our diversity is completely key,” says Morgan-Thorp. “Everyone in the band brings something really different.”
Caplan says he likes to experiment with all sorts of different genres, but ultimately he is rooted in a folk, singer-songwriter style, citing influences such as Tom Waits, Bob Dylan and Wilco.
“By the time I could bring a few chords together I was getting up there to perform,” he says. “For me, what I’m most interested in is that property of sharing. So the ability of being in front of an audience and sharing that music directly is a powerful experience. I get a big kick out of it.”

Dalhousie Gazette, More Than Just a Party Band cont…
When he first came to King’s he played in the Wardroom in exchange for free drinks in order to learn how to interact with the audience.
“They say you need 10,000 hours of practice to become a virtuoso, and there’s no inborn talent,” he says. “Before you can be a great performer you’ve got to pay your dues and spend that time onstage.”
He acknowledges that being a King’s student is a great way for him to log those hours in a fairly relaxed and supportive environment.
The band also gives King’s credit as being a great way to meet people and develop the band. Caplan estimates that of the handful of musicians that have at one point been a part the Casual Smokers, about half are King’s students.
“University has been key in some fate-developing way,” says Morgan-Thorp. “I think the way I met Ben was when he heard me talking to someone about my cello in the quad.”
“He came up to me – this frightening bearded guy who was like, ‘I heard you play the cello.’ It turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. But that’s King’s. That’s quad-mentality. That’s everyone knows everyone.”
On the other hand, the band’s university-education has also hampered their true passions. Four out of the six members are currently in their fourth year of university, so scheduling time to get together has been, according to Caplan, “a nightmare.”
“We all love each other and want to spend all our time together and we’re all just trying to graduate,” says Morgan-Thorp.
Ultimately, though, Caplan says he does not regret his choice to go university. He says it has been a formative experience, and he thinks he has learned a lot about himself and his passions. He has also become much more self-motivated.
“One of the things I’ve learned at university is that nobody’s going to do anything for you,” he says on his efforts to further his music career. “You’ve got to pull your own weight.”
Caplan, a native of Hamilton, Ontario, says he intends to remain in Halifax after he graduates. He says the city has been receptive to the band, and has treated them well.
“My plan is to ride this train as far as it will take me,” he says.
The Casual Smokers recently performed at the Elephant and Castle. By all measurable qualifiers, the show was a success. About 80 people showed up, there were stellar opening acts, and the venue’s man

Ben Caplan Announces New Album, Plots Fall Tour – Exclaim!

Halifax's Ben Caplan toured heavily in the wake of 2011's In the Time of the Great Remembering. Now, the massively bearded folk singer has announced plans to release a new album and hit the road.

The forthcoming LP is called Birds with Broken Wings. The exact release details haven't been confirmed just yet, but Caplan has already far exceeded his financial goal on a PlegeMusic crowdfunding campaign.

"I think that a new album was probably due years ago," Caplan said in a statement. "But whether or not I would have been able to pull it off the way I wanted to, that I don't know. I wanted to take my time and honour the process. There was a lot to learn. I wanted to make an album that was complex but with space for anyone to find their way into it. I wanted to collaborate with people who inspire me and find space for unexpected things. It takes time."

It's still possible to by CDs, vinyl and all sorts of other goodies here. The finished product is expected out this fall.

At the bottom of this page, check out a lyric video for the horn-filled, vintage-style soul tune "40 Days & 40 Nights." The video is a simple performance clip, while the song features funk trombone hero Fred Wesley (who has played with James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic).

Also below, see Caplan's upcoming live schedule with his band the Casual Smokers. The fall tour runs for more than two months, from the first half of September to the second half of November, in which time Caplan and company will play a large assortment of Canadian and U.S. cities.

Tour dates:

09/12 Quebec City, QC - Festival Envol et Macadam
09/16 Wolfville, NS - Al Whittle Hall
09/17 Wolfville, NS - Al Whittle Hall
09/18 Truro, NS - Champions Bar and Grill
09/19 Mount Stewart, PE - Trailside Cafe
09/21 New York, NY - Rockwood Music Hall
09/22 New York, NY - Rockwood Music Hall
09/23 Danbury, CT - Heirloom Arts Theatre
09/24 Burlington, VT - Club Metronome
09/25 Montreal, QC - Bar Le Ritz PDB
09/26 Burnstown, ON - Neat in the Woods Festival
09/29 Kingston, ON - The Mansion
09/30 Hamilton, ON - The Studio at Hamilton Place
10/01 Bayfield, ON - The Ashwood Bourbon Bar
10/02 Toronto, ON - The Mod Club
10/03 Kitchener, ON - The Boathouse
10/04 London, ON - The Aeolian Hall
10/06 Detroit, MI - Majestic Theatre
10/07 Cleveland, OH - Beachland Tavern
10/08 Columbus, OH - Woodlands Tavern
10/09 Newport, KY - The Southgate House Revival
10/10 Chicago, IL - Schubas
10/11 Milwaukee, WI - Shank Hall

10/12 St. Paul, MN - Turf Club
10/15 Winnipeg, MB - The Good Will Social Club
10/16 Saskatoon, SK - Amigos Cantina
10/17 Edmonton, AB - The Brixx Bar & Grill
10/18 Red Deer, AB - Fratters
10/20 Calgary, AB - The Gateway at SAIT
10/23 Nelson, BC - Hume Hotel | Spirit Bar
10/24 Kelowna, BC - Streaming Cafe
10/26 Vancouver, BC - The Biltmore Cabaret
10/28 Victoria, BC - Lucky Bar
10/29 Seattle, WA - Conor Byrne Pub
10/31 Willamina, OR - Wildwood Hotel
11/01 San Francisco, CA - The Chapel
11/03 San Diego, CA - Soda Bar
11/04 Los Angeles, CA - No Vacancy
11/05 Phoenix, AZ - The Rebel Lounge
11/06 El Paso, TX - The Lowbrow Palace
11/07 Dallas, TX - Double Wide
11/10 Nashville, TN - City Winery
11/11 Charlotte, NC - Visulite
11/13 Philadelphia, PA - Milkboy
11/14 Portland, ME - One Longfellow Square

11/20 Halifax - Rebecca Cohn Theatre *
11/21 Halifax - Rebecca Cohn Theatre *

* with Symphony Nova Scotia

Ben Caplan Folks Up London – Western Gazette

I’m just excited to get up on that bandstand and rock,” said folk singer-songwriter Ben Caplan, before his show at the Home County Music & Arts Festival. “I’ve been sitting around in this heat all day, and I’ve got to unleash some energy.”

Energetic is certainly the word to describe Caplan’s rip-roaring performance this past Saturday, shattering the oppressive humidity of the night with powerful vocals and a pounding drum track. Full of an almost unnerving vitality, Caplan sang, shouted, yodelled, jumped and leaped from guitar to piano and back again without losing an ounce of verve throughout his entire lineup.

Caplan hails from Nova Scotia, where his debut album In the Time of the Great Remembering won him various awards, including Nova Scotia’s 2012 Entertainer of the Year and the East Coast Music Award for Rising Star Recording of the Year for 2013. Since then, he has played over a thousand shows from Glastonbury, UK to the Netherlands. Currently, he is on a solo tour of North America, “stripped down” with minimal instrumental and vocal backing.

Caplan’s voice is incredibly powerful — mellow and rich, but with a raw ferocity to it reminiscent of the style of the late B.B. King. He was accompanied on some songs by pianist and singer Taryn Kawaja, whose higher, more classically melodic voice meshed well with Caplan’s rugged vocal timbre. Audience participation was encouraged — in a few of the “folk singalong” pieces, the attending crowd shouted back the chorus with vigour.

To say that Caplan performed some songs while strumming an acoustic guitar would be an understatement. It would be more accurate to say he roared melodiously while jamming, bending and brandishing the instrument. On the other hand, there were also times where his voice became low and smooth and his strumming gentle and precise, a testament to his dynamism. When he switched to piano, his voice took on a crooning jazz-lounge tone, pleasantly raspy and rugged — but Caplan, not one for conformity, changed it up with the occasional bout of diabolical laughter as Kawaja played an eerie harmonica accompaniment.

But there was no empty grandstanding on the bandstand — Caplan’s energy was perfectly matched by his complex lyricism, each song an intellectual as well as a musical exploration of touchy issues from alcoholism to filicide. They are filled with biblical, mythological and literary references; Caplan’s goal is to “poke his fingers into ugliness” by tapping into this age-old canon. His voice adds the perfect heft to these already weighty songs, which he describes as the “anti-Chicken Soup for the Soul.”

READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH BEN CAPLAN BEFORE HIS PERFORMANCE AT THE HOME COUNTY FESTIVAL.

You can listen to Ben Caplan’s music on his Youtube channel. His new album, Bird with Broken Wings, is available for preorder at bencaplan.ca/pledge.