‘Gratitude’ is expressive but not extraordinary

Benjamin Francis Leftwich’s latest is a poignant reflection on his personal journey

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British folk artist Benjamin Francis Leftwich performs in the Channel Islands in 2011. 

Courtesy Dan Marsh

Britain’s answer to the success of American folk band Bon Iver comes in the form of Benjamin Francis Leftwich, an artist who definitely fits on a Spotify Coffeehouse playlist and who likely has had songs that have been played in the background of a firelit room while a thunderstorm rages outside the window of a log cabin in the woods. He’s an  acoustic-driven folk artist whose often simplistic lyrics usually evoke deep, somber reflection from the listener. Leftwich released his third album “Gratitude” on March 15, after a two-year hiatus from his last — after the hectic promotion schedule for his second album, he spent a long time in a rehabilitation facility. 

Even if the listener didn’t know about the struggles he went through, it would be impossible not to notice some of the internal conflict Leftwich experienced during the production of this album. In many ways, this album seems to serve as a healing process for Leftwich, taking the listener through a journey of self-reflection and self-growth. In the first song of the album “Gratitude” Leftwich states “I've landed on the ground / Look at all the peace I've found,” alongside a slow, peaceful piano and resonating backtracks. 

However, in between the high-caliber, thought-provoking moments of the album, much of the rest of it tends to blend together, with nothing really jumping out to the listener. “Gratitude” is an album that could be put on in the background of a room but fails to be extraordinary in the same way that Leftwich’s prior works have been. It’s good, but not great. 

This drop in quality is understandable given the time Leftwich spent away from music and the difficulties he had to overcome during this time off. Yet Leftwich also seems well-poised to take his experiences and make beautiful new music from them. Glimpses of the potential this album had come through with songs like “Look Ma!,” “Luzern” and “The Mess We Make.” “Look Ma!” is the first song Leftwich wrote after overcoming his addiction and serves as the single for the album. On the track, he mixes his breathy voice with staccato piano and guitar with a strong beat coming up throughout. 

One of the highlights of the album comes from “Luzern,” which features lyrics like “The moonlight made me a liar / And the sunlight made me strong” and “Look at all the wasted nights.” The song sees Leftwich express the deep emotional trials he worked through in the last couple years. 

“The Mess We Make” — a song which references the inner turmoil Leftwich experienced after his intense rise into fame — is the perfect ending to this album. A single piano note, sped up into the first lyrics “Look at the mess we make / Locking ourselves away / On so many beautiful days,” are reminiscent of the genius of his last albums. The simplistic structure and sound allows the listener to really hear what Leftwich is trying to express. The lack of competing instruments creates space in which the listener can dive deeper into the story Leftwich is telling about his addiction and his recovery. 

The song starts off regretful, where Leftwich reminisces about days missed and apologizes for forgotten birthdays. He then starts to reference what drove him to his addiction, “People say to me / "You're living in a dream" / I never know the answer / I don't know what you mean.” The same media industry that has driven many emotional artists into dark places lead Leftwich to seemingly ignore any signs of distress in “Trying to realise / Our vision of paradise.” 

The song, which finishes off the album, ends with the words “Luckily, clarity / Finally is coming to me / Slowly, I can see,” to show the optimism Leftwich feels after his journey. The rawness of this ending is what makes this album memorable. Knowing what Leftwich had to go through in his personal struggles — and seeing that he’s made it to a better place — make up for the difference in quality between this album and his last ones. 

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