Ben Thomas
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Ben Thomas


Band Folk Singer/Songwriter


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This band has not uploaded any videos



"Independent Artists to Watch..."

A youth ministry coordinator from Naperville, Illinois, 26-year-old Ben Thomas has been writing and performing in Chicagoland's coffeehouses and clubs as an independent since the mid-'90s. But The Recovery marks his first full-length studio effort, and it's a good one. Self-written, produced, and mostly performed by Thomas, it's an album filled with dichotomies. The sound is melodic and approachable, yet the instrumentation is often quite progressive, mixing acoustic guitars with atmospheric effects and aggressive drum fills. The song style is structured, but the production is sometimes unconventional—there's an intense indie rawness reminiscent of Damien Rice's O album that can sound a tad muddy in some speakers, but it can also sound terrific in the right system. And it all plays off themes that candidly express sadness and brokenness while ultimately finding hope and peace in the Lord. Thomas appropriately cites alt-folk/pop influences like Wilco, Over the Rhine, Bob Dylan, and Pedro the Lion; you'll likely dig this if you've enjoyed recent albums by Derek Webb and Taylor Sorensen. This solo debut lends credence to that belief that indie artists are the last bastion for creative songwriting. - Christianity Today

""The Recovery" Review (4 stars)"

The initiative to get your art out to the public is extremely important in this day of the oversaturated music market. While anyone out there can make a record in their bedroom, not everyone can create a buzz around their personal creation. One successor in this music hill climb is Illnois’ Ben Thomas. Thomas was recently named as one of the top up and coming independent artist by _Christianity Today_, and that honor is well deserved. _The Recovery_ is a musical treasure chest for the fan of alt-country/folk rock fan. At moments, Thomas sounds can remind you of amped-up Bright Eyes or Rocky Votolato without the gloomy perspective on life. When you combine that with the sounds of Wilco, Radiohead, and Derek Webb, you’ve got the makings of a great album. Personal lyrics alongside haunting melodies are what Thomas does best. The “do it yourself” nature of this album sometimes rears its head, but the rawness of the project also adds to the passion in Thomas’ songwriting. Thomas shows he can have some fun with his songwriting on “Loosen Your Grip” and “Doves” but can keep it serious, as seen in “Shackled By Light” and “I Keep Driving (The Machine).” Showing lots of promise for a 26 year-old, Thomas’ first full-length is an independent success setting the stage for a bright future. - Phantom Tollbooth

""The Recovery" Review"

If you like acoustic pop rock, you will like this album. It has fourteen tracks that cover eternal and earthly subjects. I enjoyed it the first time I played it through. Fans of Bebo Norman and Jars of Clay should like it too. Ben played most of the instruments and wrote all of the songs. Readers from the Illinois area should catch him live. I look forward to his next release after this solid album. -

"Local Musician Ben Thomas Releasing Christmas Album"

Local musician Ben Thomas releasing Christmas album
December 6, 2007
Fox Valley-based indie-folk artist Ben Thomas will release his second studio album on
Sunday, Dec. 9. The Christmas-themed CD is titled The Bewildering Light: Faces At
The Manger .
The 29-year-old Thomas serves as a worship leader and part of the preaching team at
Wheatland Salem Church in Naperville. The concept for the album was developed with
a team of artists and worship ministry leaders from the church, which is located at
Book Road and 95th Street.
During the month of December, Wheatland Salem will run an original sermon series
titled "Faces at the Manger." Thomas will present an original song each week that
supports the message.
"We will be exploring several of the characters presented in the Gospel stories
surrounding Jesus' birth," Thomas said. "For those people, there was a whole lot of
tension, frustration and questioning along with the hope, joy and peace that we
usually associate with our Christmas celebrations. I think we have a lot to learn from
them if we can just pull back a few layers of tradition. These songs and these
messages are an attempt to do just that."
The Bewildering Light is an acoustic album comprised of 10 songs, half of which are
original compositions and half of which are Thomas' arrangements of traditional
Christmas carols. The album features contributions by a variety of musicians, both
vocally and instrumentally. It also features original artwork by local artist Peter
The "Faces At The Manger" sermon series featuring music by Ben Thomas began
Sunday, Dec. 2 and will continue through the month Contemporary service times are
at 9 and 10:30 a.m. and a traditional service is held at 8:30 a.m.
The Bewildering Light will be available for purchase at Wheatland Salem Church and at
Ben Thomas shows. It is currently available for pre-order at . - The Fox Valley Sun

"Quick Quotes about "So Elated""

“There is an honesty that underpins their music… an honesty that is so necessary for now… This is soul-stirring music for folk who weren’t lobotomized when they decided to follow Jesus.” (Something Beautiful)

So Elated officially assume the mantle of Bazan and Webb at their self-critical, post-evangelical, anti-religious best …Shows a great amount of musical and lyrical, including theological, maturity. This is one group to keep your eyes on in the coming years.” (Fire and the Rose)

“…the songs carry with them a quality that makes them hard to put out of mind. This is best exemplified in the song ‘Viral,’ which lives up to its title with its inexplicable ability to occupy your thoughts for days” (Soul-Audio)

“Meandering mid-west sound that is both familiar and fresh… At times Beatle-esque, at others Waterdeep meets Wilco, [So Elated] have crafted an appealing mix of thoughtfully produced Americana for the soul” (The Canny Shark) - Something Beautiful, Fire and the Rose, Soul-Audio, The Canny Shark

"Album Review - So Elated, So Elated"

So Elated, So Elated
Joyful Rice; 2009

The era of CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) as we once knew it is over. If the world of Christian music in the 1990s was marked by a not-so-subtle attempt to “outdo” the “secular” world (e.g., Newsboys, OC Supertones, DC Talk), the new millennium has brought a radically different attitude. The new generation is tired of kitsch and ostentation, sentimentality and super-piety, the Religious Right and social subcultures. And musical tastes have changed as well. Instead of punk and ska and post-Nirvana alternative rock, American youth today enjoy the subdued folk-rock of Iron & Wine and Fleet Foxes and the brainy indie rock of Arcade Fire and the Decemberists.

Moreover, young Christian artists are no longer interested in maintaining the artificial distinction between so-called “Christian music” and “secular music.” These evangelical labels have (thankfully) been given a quiet burial, and in their place young Christians today are interested simply in making and hearing good music. Certainly there have always been groups of Christian artists with this attitude: Pedro the Lion, Starflyer 59, and Joy Electric quickly come to mind. But what distinguishes the current musical climate is the fact that this former minority-niche view has gone “mainstream.” As a result, the doors have opened wide for young independent artists to explore their ideas and musical sensibilities without the straitjacket of what Walter Kirn once called the “evangelical alternaculture,” in which “everything gets cloned in mainstream culture and then leached of ‘sinful’ content.”

Into this new situation, artists from the ’90s, such as David Bazan (Pedro the Lion, Headphones) and Derek Webb (Caedmon’s Call), have adapted their music to fit the times. And while it is interesting to see how established artists have changed over the years, we are seeing the proliferation of young Christian artists whose musical sensibilities have clearly been shaped by the fall of CCM and the rise of a new generation. These artists are taking advantage of the digital era, making the most of a worldwide web that enables the quick spread of music around the globe. One such group is So Elated, the latest effort by Chicago-based singer-songwriter, Ben Thomas, who is joined here by fellow band members Luke Harris (upright bass, mandolin), John Dudich (guitar, vocals) and Matt Brennan (percussion).

Released back in January, the debut self-titled release by So Elated is a perfect example of this new era in so-called “Christian music.” For starters, they do not call themselves a “Christian band,” nor is their music “Christian music.” The adjective “Christian” is dropped altogether—and for good reason. In Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle famously quipped, “Christian art? Art is art; painting is painting; music is music; a story is a story. If it’s bad art, it’s bad religion, no matter how pious the subject.” And later, after writing the term “Christian art,” she adds, “by which I mean all true art.” This is the perspective of So Elated. Instead of using artificial labels to distinguish themselves, So Elated lets the music speak for itself.

On first listen, it is immediately apparent that Ben Thomas and company were influenced heavily by Bazan and Webb—both of whom are cited as influences on their website and in press releases. (That’s not to suggest that these are the only two influences, since there are clearly many others, but these two have a special significance.) The opening track, “The Ache of Going Without” (which you can hear on their website) is the most obviously influenced by Bazan’s oeuvre. The steady, simple guitar chords and an uncannily Bazan-like vocal delivery indicate very clearly where Ben Thomas was finding his musical inspiration. In a way, for those with ears to hear, the song serves to indicate the kind of album the listener should expect: if you identify with the music found on records like Achilles Heel and Mockingbird, then keep listening—you’ll feel right at home.

If the opening track hearkens back to Pedro the Lion, a number of the other tracks are more clearly influenced by Derek Webb. Two, in particular, are worth focusing on in depth: “Redemption” and “Open My Heart With Knives.” Where Bazan tries to avoid speaking directly and didactically about issues of faith and religion—opting instead for the posture of the rebel on songs like “Foregone Conclusions”—Webb tackles these topics head-on. And most of the songs on So Elated follow in Webb’s footsteps, both musically and lyrically. To further the comparison just a bit, Webb tends to write two kinds of songs: those that say something positive about the version of faith which he envisions and seeks to practice (e.g., “My Enemies Are Men Like Me”), and those that sarcastically criticize the version of faith he has left behind or wants others to leave behind (e.g., “A Savior On Capitol Hill” and “A King & A Kingdom”). So Elated have both kinds of songs: “Redemption” represents the affirmative aspect, and “Open My Heart With Knives” the critical. What makes So Elated such a promising band is that they do both kinds of songs with more subtlety and simplicity. Webb is often far too didactic, and So Elated seem to have struck a more healthy and musically satisfying balance between him and Bazan.

In “Redemption,” So Elated present a message of Christian universalism—a topic that has received a fair amount of attention on this blog. The opening verse speaks about how every aspect of creaturely life has been changed by Christ: “the blood I bleed was transfused by you” and “everything I need was redeemed by you.” The second verse is more reminiscent of Webb’s penchant for controversial lyrics. In it, Thomas sings:

Every war-torn state, every child born with AIDS
Every broke-down mixed-up place is being fixed by you
Every political view
Every Christian, Muslim, Jew
Is being recreated new and fixed by Jesus
Finally, in the chorus, we hear that this redemption “blankets every fear we know” and, most importantly, “carries everybody home.”

The homiletic nature of these lyrics is hard to miss. Thomas & co. are preaching a sermon in song, and this can be both enriching and off-putting, much like Webb. In fact, the only difference between songs like “Redemption” and some of the old CCM tracks is the message being preached. Where a Steven Curtis Chapman or a Twila Paris would sing about the return of Jesus and the need to repent, here we have a song about Christ’s redemption bringing everybody home to be with God. Formally, the didacticism remains, but materially the message is quite different. That’s no small change, of course, and as a Christian theologian, I am quite happy to say a clear “Yes” and “Amen” to the sermon that So Elated is preaching. But I do wonder sometimes whether a little more Bazan and a little less Webb might do So Elated some good.

One other critique is worth mentioning. Songs like “Redemption” have their place, and I certainly want to encourage the theological content. But at the same time I am concerned about the all-too-easy treatment of death and brokenness in songs (and stories and films) of this nature. In this song, for example, war and AIDS are treated in a single line, with the conclusion that these are being “fixed by Jesus.” Yes, I agree—but this feels too flippant, too comfortable. I am reminded of a recent article in Atlantic Monthly about Flannery O’Connor. The author summarizes the key to O’Connor’s works in the following way: “(1) from the Christian viewpoint, the modern human condition is filled with a peculiar horror; (2) therefore, to fictionally depict humans in their peculiarly horrifying aspect is necessary in order to explore the mysteries of redemption and grace.” Redemption and grace are essential elements of human existence, but we have to pass through the way of the cross. While this is partly a criticism of So Elated, it is more of a suggestion that, in the future, they might want to explore the darker, more horrifying aspects of human life, without rushing towards the end of the story. Let the horror sit with us as listeners. And simply pointing out the many horrors of hypocritical American Christians is not sufficient (see below). We need to grapple with the human condition more broadly.

The other song most obviously influenced by Webb is “Open My Heart With Knives.” Here the artistic paradigm is the disenchanted post-evangelicalism prominent in a number of Webb’s more critical songs. Again, So Elated improve upon the model, while also showing off their ability to match penetrating lyrics with catchy melodies. “Open My Heart” is a reductio ad absurdum in the form of prayers to God. Like any good rhetorician, the song begins with an innocuous and quite common prayer: “God of truth open my eyes.” This could be the start of some typical, cliché worship song. But already by the end of the first verse, we hear a moment of honesty: “Open my heart with knives / But please don’t make it hurt.”

Those of us who grew up in the church know exactly what is being addressed here—viz. the hyper-piety of the typical American evangelical who prays for God to do some drastic act which will make us truly love and follow God. And so we hear prayers for God to “humble me” and “break my pride” and “destroy my false desires,” etc. The prayer is always for some extreme divine intervention into our religious complacency that will finally—once and for all—make us into the ideal Christians. “Open my heart with knives” captures this tendency toward pious exaggeration perfectly. The final line, “But please don’t make it hurt,” indicates that all is not right with this picture. Our hyper-piety is a mask hiding our secret desire for everything to remain exactly the way it is. We want others to see our love for God without the inconvenience of actually having this love ourselves. In short, the opening verse exposes us as hypocrites. We are Pharisees.

But that is only the beginning of this reductio ad absurdum. The next verse starts off with: “God of good give me some love.” The prayer goes on to ask God for “green grass upon my lawn” and no rain during the baseball game. The attack has gone beyond moral hypocrisy and now extends to the use of prayer as magic for selfish gain. All too often, prayer becomes a kind of divine manipulation, in which God is supposed to act like a cosmic genie who grants our personal wishes. Then comes the third verse:
God of business pedigrees
Take my hands and make them free
But make sure they both get paid
Two or three times above the working wage
No one’s laughing anymore. The joke’s over, and now it’s just painful—painfully true. And if this weren’t enough, the climax of the song’s argument—and the turn of the knife in the backs of religious people everywhere—comes in verses five and six:
God of love give me some peace
Please destroy my enemies
Help the rest of the world to learn to live like me
And tear down the temples that worship differently

Hold my hand and make me yours
Grant me sex, power, money, and a brand new car
I know I shouldn’t worship all my stuff
So I ask that you please do it in the name of love
With this song, “Open My Heart With Knives,” So Elated officially assume the mantle of Bazan and Webb at their self-critical, post-evangelical, anti-religious best. The same spirit heard in the Bazan who famously sings, “You were too busy steering the conversation toward the Lord to hear the voice of the Spirit, begging you to shut the fuck up”—and in the Webb who sings sarcastically, “Jesus Christ was a white, middle-class Republican, and if you wanna be saved you have to learn to be like Him”—is heard again, alive and well, here in So Elated. For that, we have much for which to be grateful.

On the whole, however, the album is a mixed-bag. There are a number of very strong tracks, including “Why I Need You,” “Open My Heart With Knives,” “Strangers,” and “Lucky Ones.” These are hopefully a promising sign of what is still yet to come. However, the influence of Bazan and (most of all) Webb is often so strong that we fail at times to get a sense of what makes So Elated original and fresh. We don’t always get a coherent and compelling impression of So Elated as musical artists.

Most disappointing of all, the album turns the clocks of so-called “Christian music” backwards by ending with “Exit Door,” a song about “going home” to be with Jesus in heaven. The song is full of the typical CCM clichés. In the chorus, Ben sings:
You’re my reason, my completion,
You’re my exit door, you’re my ticket home
You’re my family and my mystery
You’re my walking dead and my desire to be
And I’m ready for you to take me home
In the press release, the song is described as a “classic apocalyptic, death-ward gazing, tombstone printable epilogue.” Having sung about the redemption of all things, I would have expected So Elated to be more “life-ward gazing.” A theology of redemption should lead us back into the world, not away from it. On this point, we always need the reminder of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “The difference between the Christian hope of resurrection and the mythological hope is that the former sends a man back to his life on earth in a wholly new way.” Christianity is a “this-worldly” faith, not an “other-worldly” religion. So while for the most part, the album is on par with or better than your average Derek Webb release, this final song reverts back to the type of theology that Webb and Bazan, among others, have sought to counteract. Ending an album with this kind of song feels very paint-by-number. It reverts back to a formula that most Christian artists have left behind (no pun intended).

These criticisms notwithstanding, So Elated are still a very young band with a lot of room for growth. Their debut already shows a great amount of musical and lyrical, including theological, maturity. This is one group to keep your eyes on in the coming years.

[My sincere thanks to So Elated for the review copy of the album. You can purchase So Elated here. Click here for the So Elated online store, which includes the previous albums by Ben Thomas. You can follow So Elated on Twitter @soelated.] - Fire and the Rose


"So Elated" (January 13th, 2009)

"The Bewildering Light" (2008):
Acoustic Indie-Folk, done lo-fi, hushed in a sanctuary amidst wooden ceilings with upright bass, classical guitar, flutes and choirs. New songs and old. a melancholy and provocative take on Christmas.
Ben Thomas "Solo" Projects:

"The Recovery" (2004)
"A musical treasure chest for the fan of alt-country/folk rock" (Phantom Tollbooth) and a 14-song adventure, dressing Thomas' memorable songwriting up with creative sonic landscapes and production.

"Highway EP" (2004)
A 6-song live collaboration between Ben Thomas and singer-songwriter John Dudich, recorded in Ben's living room with the fireplace burning. It is available through for free download.

"Grace Will Lead..."(2001)
Soul-busting, from the heart acoustic folk-rock. This is Thomas' debut live recording, done "coffeehouse style"... just him, his guitar and 13 original songs that speak with sincerity and passion.



Inspired by a song and the images it evoked for singer-songwriter, Ben Thomas, So Elated was created in early 2008. Joined by fellow musicians in the Chicago area, So Elated released their self-titled album in January of 2009.

Influenced by artists such as David Bazan, Wilco, Sufjan Stevens, Iron and Wine, Derek Webb and Bright Eyes, So Elated conjures up music that is both eclectic and unique. Several songs from the new abum have already been chosen for TV/film, including "Viral", which will appear on the fall 2009 season of PBS's "Roadtrip Nation" and "Strangers", which was placed on Shatter Records latest tv/film compilation disc.

"So Elated" was released nationally on January 13, 2009 and was celebrated with two release shows: one, a suburban-Chicago concert attended by over 300 fans, and the other, a sold-out show at Uncommon Ground's new venue on Devon in Chicago. The album to invite listeners into an honest conversation that hits a pinnacle of the craft and energy Thomas' music is known for. A storyteller at heart, Thomas' lyrics are challenging and engaging without feeling forced or contrived, complementing a music vibe that is both simple and complex.

So Elated’s Christmas album, “The Bewildering Light� (2008) attained success on, remaining in the top 12 album downloads during the holiday season.

Jeremy Gudauskas, founder and manager of acclaimed Chicago-area college venue, "The Union", writes: "Ben Thomas has been grinding out some of the best independent folk-rock in Chicagoland for the past decade, and is primed and ready for national exposure with his latest collection of work. Crafting songs with creative instrumentation and intelligent lyrics, Thomas delivers a passionate, soul-stirring live performance that taps the mystery and wonder of the human experience. Images of dark and light, hope and despair, faith and doubt are all wrapped up in a sonic package that is simultaneously raw and polished. Thomas is a lover of music and a student of some of the best alt-indie-folk-rock both above and below the radar, influences he blends seamlessly into his own unique style of recording and performing."