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You Should Be So Lucky (2014)

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Benmont Tench

As a Heartbreaker and on his own, Benmont Tench defines a supporting musician: versatile, tasteful, and distinctive; enhancing sessions without overwhelming the leader. He's so thoroughly part of a group that it's hard to picture him stepping to the center of the stage, but You Should Be So Lucky -- his 2014 solo debut, released roughly 38 years after the first Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers album -- shows he's an appealingly ragged and relaxed frontman and one who knows not to abandon his core strengths. One of those strengths may not be his vocals -- slightly raspy and slightly sweet, he can carry a tune (he doesn't possess the gravelly croak of, say, Pete Buck), but he lays back, letting the listener come to him, never commanding attention -- but, whether he's choosing a cover or sculpting an original, he has an ear for a good tune, he knows how to color them effectively, and, especially, he knows how to carry out every kind of groove. Often on You Should Be So Lucky, Tench turns toward a loose-limbed, R&B swing and Glyn Johns -- a legendary producer who surprisingly has never produced Petty, but did helm Ryan Adams' 2011 set Ashes & Fire, which featured support by Tench -- does the smart thing by recording the keyboardist and his group (featuring Don Was, Ethan Johns, Jeremy Stacey, and Blake Mills) live, capturing their inherent burned-in groove as well as its elasticity. Tench and company can drift, as they do on smoky instrumental "Ecor Rouge," dabble with the New Orleans rhumba ("Wobbles"), and work up a serious groove (a smoking cover of Bob Dylan's latter-day gem "Duquesne Whistle"), but most of the record is anchored in roots rock that isn't necessarily rustic. Even when the spirit is shambolic, such as on the pleasingly lazy Band-indebted "Blonde Girl, Blue Dress," there's an ease to the delivery that's smooth yet consciously dodges away from polish. You Should Be So Lucky is distinguished by that casual professionalism, and the album is so comfortable, so easy to enjoy that it can take a few listens to realize how deeply Tench's original songs sink in -- it's not just that ballads like "Today I Took Your Picture Down" start to resonate, but the pop hooks on "Veronica Said" and the title track seem stronger and cannier -- and how soulful this whole affair is. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine