12 April 2018 (released)
05 May 2018
Oklahoma artist Benjamin Dean Wilson explores the line between prose and poetry on his new record The Smartest Person in the Room. The one-man band Wilson employs a talk-sing technique of expository expression over classic mid-west Americana. Wilson's unique storytelling explores the basic everyday scenes and emotions and how those moments string together to make a life. Wilson takes the Randy Newman style to heart, detailing all the mundane little details that get glossed over when you're waxing poetic in the typical song. His anecdotic style is likely informed by his time in the film industry.
The title track opens the album with a jangly rhythm and the swell swaying of Maria Grigoryeva's fiddle, the only guest appearance on the album. Wilson's thoughts meander from a love that is growing lukewarm, to his plans for the rest of the day, to philosophy dished out by his mechanic. All throughout, this theme of mentally outgrowing your quaint hometown permeates the whole narrative. Wilson bemoans: “I'd rather keep my mouth shut, I know I come from a country full of idiots/And now I'm nervous that when I talk, I'm gonna sound like them”. Wilson's piano plays an ever descending line while Grigoryeva follows every bounce, stutter, jaunt and ramble that Wilson makes.
As the album goes on we're introduced to more characters in Wilson's tale. 'A Difficult Decision for Ronnie Giovanni' tells the tale of a pusher and philanderer and 'Mr. Paranoid, Lizzy and Her Family' details in Royal Tenenbaum fashion an idiosyncratic family by way of their everyday interactions.
The Smartest Person in the Room has some well-complimenting musical passages by an artist that has a strong sense of where he's going with a track. Unfortunately, the vocals and lyrics leave something to be desired. Bizarre and awkward melody choices are met with lines that don't quite fit. There is a pretty substantial spectrum from prose to poetry and this project falls in an awkward spot on that continuum. Choosing to move either more into poetic cadence or further into straight prose would likely improve things.