March 2005

Stephen Bennett
March 19, 2005 • presented by the Toronto Fingerstyle Guitar Society Association
Stephen Bennett said he could play longer than we could listen, but last night he couldn’t prove it. He played two plus hours—25 tunes on three guitars—but when he stopped playing, the audience rose to its feet and demanded more.
The concert began with Stephen picking the Beatles’ "Eight Days a Week" on his custom made six string acoustic. He followed that with 7 originals including a Josh White style “St, James Infirmary” type Blues. Then he switched to his 1930 National Steel Guitar for a session that included an amazing “Amazing Grace” in a kind of porch blues style, and an original entitled "C.E.O" (Comanche Executive Officer) during which his guitar managed to sound just like a sitar. He concluded the first set with a replica (pictured here) of his great-grandfather's Dyer harp guitar made by Merrill Brothers with a program of tunes that included “Danny Boy”, “Something in the Way She Walks”, and three originals including “The Eye of God” (“I like to aim high for my song titles”), a composition about the National Geographic’s photo of the Crab Nebula seen from the Hubble telescope (“Do you get National Geographic ‘up here’?”). This is Stephen’s first time in Canada.
No matter which guitar he’s playing, this man’s technique is impeccable, his style highly articulated and consistent. Stephen’s treatments incline towards the vigorous, with plenty of bounce and sparkle coming off the strings, and a beat that he emphasizes by slaps and thumps on strings, neck and body of his instruments. His arrangements of beautiful and familiar tunes like The Beatles’ “Hello/Goodbye”(great fade out), “Strawberry Fields”, and “If I Fell,” are marked by artfulness and good taste, with a nice blend of picking and chords—strummed, struck and plucked--ornamented with hammer-ons, pull-offs, harmonics and slides. Ditto for his playing on Jazz Standards such as the medley of “Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” (Ahlert/Young, 1937) and “All of Me” (Marks/Simons, 1931) arranged from the original chording. These tunes hook him up with the era of Billie Holiday, Sinatra and Nat ‘King’ Cole. He opened up and sang these, reminding us how much fun it is to accompany yourself on good old tunes. His singing on the medley of Harold Arlen’s “If I Only Had a Brain/Heart/etc” from The Wizard of Oz was skillful and funny in a good way. And because I am approaching the end of this report and have nowhere else to slip it in, I have to mention that you would be haunted if you could hear Stephen play his arrangement of Procul Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale.” This is one versatile virtuoso.

Why is it easier to recognize and remember a tune if you know it has words? The question comes up because individually, Stephen’s instrumental compositions are lovely, captivating while he’s playing, but go out of my mind as soon as he’s into the next one? Perhaps this curious situation will be remedied when I give his newest CD some consistent attention in a coming report.

We welcome your comments and feedback
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Report and Photograph by
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Stanley Fefferman
for The Live Music Report

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