The Phantom Tollbooth

In the Bag
Artist: Benjamin Antell
Label: W.A.A.M. 002
URL: http://www.antell.com
Time: 9 tracks/26:59 minutes
 
It's not often one finds an independent release that would stand up favourably to the material that mainstream record labels are putting out. In the Bag is one of those rare recordings. Unlike most indie artists, Bejamin Antell is no newcomer to the music scene, having been around and involved in music since 1971.
 
In the Bag bears witness to that fact, containing a wide variety of musical styles, with just enough similarity that their integration works.
 
Opening track, "Be Bop Dum De Dum," was inspired by the story of Nicky Cruz's move from New York gangleader to evangelistic preacher. It's a cute little number with rolling drum loops, simple lyrics, and general pep. The pseudo trip-hop of the following track, "There's a God In My Garage" is quite a contrast and sounds like it wouldn't be out of place on one of N'Soul's eclectica compilations, except that is somewhat better than we've come to expect from those releases.

The only song that never grabbed me, "The Money Song," suffers from its musical simplicity, and constant repetition of the phrase "money makes the world go round." Thankfully Antell follows it with three more quirky tracks, mixing the contrasts of programmed drum loops and sampling and country.
 
Lyrically, "my darling daughter," a plea for a daughter who has left the faith, is a good example of Antell's approach. We are not told whether the daughter is fictional or not, but either way it's a beautiful song:

Combined with a further few tracks, this CD is evidence of a genius at work. If only this release could get major distribution in North America, it would definately inject some much needed new blood into the works.

By  John Vanden Heuvel (1/23/99)