Music, by its very nature, is a collaborative experience. Both giving and receiving are required for it to exist, if not demanded by it. Even when an artist writes, plays, and records every single note on an album by themselves, the collaboration begins once someone else hears their work. For when we listen, we overlay or inject ourselves onto or into a song’s story in order to interpret it through our particular perspective. We make its meaning our own and are, therefore, a partner in its creative life. In that way, we collaborate with its creator.
But, oftentimes, the collaborative nature of music is much more straightforward, as on Ben Glover’s latest release, Shorebound. Here, the Irish native and Nashville transplant wrote and recorded songs with other singer/songwriters who have played integral roles in his cross-Atlantic career over the past decade. From Gretchen Peters and Mary Gauthier on this side of the pond to Ricky Ross and Robert Vincent on that side, Glover’s partners in creative crime each bring their unique gifts to bear.
Peters and Glover previously crafted 2016’s Americana UK International Song of the Year with “Blackbirds,” which appeared on his 2014 album, Atlantic, as well as her 2015 Blackbirds release. They’ve taken a similar tack with “Dancing with the Beast” off his Shorebound and her album of the same name. The pair have no problem digging into deep, dark wells together, as evidenced in both cuts. This one finds them naming and facing the overwhelming force of emotional anxiety, though it could just as easily be about physical abuse.
A similarly dark turn is taken with “Catbird Seat,” written and performed with Gauthier. When her voice slips in on the chorus, it does so with an affecting insouciance that sums up the indifference so many feel toward the marginalized members of our society that the song depicts.
There are lighter notes to be found in the set, to be sure. Glover’s “Northern Stars” tribute to the skies above his homeland bounces jauntily along with help from Malojian and Matt McGinn, as does the Kim Richey collab, “Ride the River,” while the album’s closer, “Keeper of My Heart,” saunters and sways with the help of Vincent.
But the real heart of the matter comes in one of the two solo offerings that is “Kindness.” Quite a few artists have written about kindness this year in response to a world unraveling all too quickly in the other direction. With his effort, Glover turns what could be a political sentiment into a personal plea: “May you be without anger. May you be without hate. May you be without jealousy. May you be without shame. And if the world gets lost in sadness, may you find a prayer of home.” The song is a wish floating on a gentle acoustic stream that washes over the listener and floods their heart with the hope of a blessing offered to them from an Irishman who has been blessed to share the gift of music in all its collaborative glory.