At the risk of sounding like some sort of heathen—music critics are supposed to be hopelessly retro-obsessed vinyl fetishists, right?—I love Spotify. One of the reasons why is that, for every possible situation or mood you can imagine, there are more playlists than you can count. Those playlists are often made up largely of things you haven’t heard before, and some of them can quickly become new favourites.
Let’s say it’s an overcast Sunday afternoon and the only thing on your agenda is crashing on the sofa with a good book. Ben Rogers is exactly the sort of artist you would hope to have pop up on that playlist of rootsy singer-songwriters. Which is a way of saying that the songs on Wildfire are well-crafted and impeccably recorded—Dallas Green of City and Colour and Alexisonfire produced the record—but are generally unobtrusive.
I don’t mean that in a bad way at all; Rogers, who has two previous albums to his name, is a damn good tunesmith. Mind you, his bio would have us believe that he “channels the likes of possessed masterminds from Nick Cave to Otis Redding to Marc Bolan of T.Rex” on Wildfire. Don’t be so sure. He doesn’t sound remotely like any of the above, nor does he need to. His sweeping but resolutely laid-back sound stands on its own, a twang-tinged brand of Canadian Americana centred around his plaintively melodic vocals.
Rogers has a rather deadly secret weapon in his arsenal, too, in the person of guitarist John Sponarski, well-known to local alt-country fans as one of the musical minds behind the dearly departed Portage and Main. It’s downright thrilling when Sponarski rips into a solo, like the four-alarm blazer that burns a hole through the otherwise mellow opener, “Doll Bones”, or the one that takes the epic title track seriously close to shoegazing territory. Wildfire, indeed.