Sound — 8
Ben Carroll's sophomore album Real Thing from Orchid Music is a field of smoky blues-soul bordered by acoustic country-folk producing a collection of tunes that resonate with the bluesy fervor or Jonny Lang draped in roving rustic wavelets reflective of Bonnie Rait. Produced by his father Jon Carroll, the album brings to light how this duo treats each other with alike respect. Ben shows total freedom in shaping his vocal melodies, and Jon's instincts for arranging the instrument parts provides the numbers with their distinct flavoring like the lacy violin series on My Darling True and the gospel-tinged grooves of Are We Still Friends. Ben Carroll shows himself to be a singer with a velvet touch, completely focusing on stylizing his vocals around the lyrics to penetrate the listener's thoughts, while the music acts as a complementing backdrop. The silky blues-soul accents on the title track Real Thing, Find A Job, and Charlene bring out Carroll's elegantly winged vocal rises relatable to Ben Harper, while the acoustic folk ambience on tracks like O Sister, Old Bowling Alley, and Dead Love Town have a similar cushioning fluency to Diane Krall. Ben Carroll shows an affection for blues-rock textures and gospel timbres liken to Robert Cray on tracks like Heart Alone and Heart Is A River, but he really shines on the funky blues inspired track Faithless Man's World which features reeds of finely brushed drum strokes and crimped acoustic guitar spreads giving it a Tennessee-blues jive.
Lyrics — 9
Ben Carroll's lyrics sound like they come from private experiences at times like in the track Heart Is A River when he expresses: Gonna tell you a little story / From a man I knew before he went above / He said one's to blow your cover / Two is for the show / Three's to get ready / Four's to blow the door / Five is for your lover / Six is for your pride / Seven's for the heaven you won't see before you die. And then there are other songs which sound like they come from personal observations like in the tune Old Bowling Alley as Carroll tells a story that he recalls: I'm walking the long room in the old bowling alley / Still got a shine on the floor / Cigarette butts from the post-union rally / Garbage waiting at the door / My lover, my wife and my mistress / They were one in the same / My darling Annie, she left us this Christmas / Left this place in my name. His words can be literal like in Old Bowling Alley or have a poetic phrasing like in Real Thing when he serenades: I'll keep your place real warm / I'll be your lighthouse for your endless storm / Don't stay away too long / Cause you know it's lonesome when my heart is so strong / And I'm gonna tell you / Baby we got the real thing. American Songwriter magazine recognized Ben Carroll's lyrical prowess by giving his song Dola Rosa from his debut album Lover Undercover, Best Lyrics honors in 2005.
Overall Impression — 8
Ben Carroll's singing is the male counterpart to Diane Krall. He plays the guitar and percussions on these tracks and is joined by his father on backup vocals, keyboards, guitar, and percussions with the addition of drummer Mike Riddleberger, violinist Nick Kendall, and bassists David Dawda and Greg Richardson. Though Real Thing is not as diversified as Ben Carroll's debut album Lover Undercover, it does deliver Ben's smooth, caressing vocal style and smoldering blues-soul acoustics, which are always pleasing.