Locked in & Live review (2022)

The new Ben Reel album is an absolute must for fans of very passionate roots rock.”” - Peter Marinus

Bluestown Music - Ben Reel - Locked In & Live review 2022

It should come as no surprise that Northern Irish singer-songwriter Ben Reel's sound is passionate and soulful. Just like most Northern Irish releases. Ben Reel has been a singer-songwriter for some time and his new album was recorded during the lockdown period at the Iontas Theater in Castleblayney with his band, which consists of Ronnie O'Flynn (bass), Michael Black (drums), Mick McCarney (guitar), John McCullough (piano, organ) and Juliann Black Reel (backing vocals), supplemented by other musical guests. The first half of the album was recorded live and opens in a pleasant way with Tough People. A song in which you can recognize influences such as the Waterboys and Bob Dylan. A wonderful opener with Ben Reel's groaning harmonica, Mick McCarney's burning guitar and John McCullough's soulfully fluttering organ. Safe And Sound then sounds passionate in an intimate way with soft biting guitar work. Then there are two intimate soulful songs in which you cannot escape the sound of Van Morrison, Like A Breeze and Landscapes. Then Up There In The Sky sounds energetic and very soulful. In Darkness & The Light brooding funky grooves emerge. A song with very intense echoing vocals from Ben Reel. 2020 Vison sounds very gritty in a Neil Young-esque way. The funk returns in the relaxed groovy Tear It Down, with Hot Stuff (Rolling Stones)-like funky guitar riffs. U People is a lazy skank reggae song that sounds like Sting playing with Bob Marley. This album is very intimate and fragile closed by three intense acoustic songs. The Bob Dylan cover Oh Sister, the Springsteen-like Old & Wise and the penetrating Bruce Sprtingsteen cover Drive All Night. The new Ben Reel album is an absolute must for fans of very passionate roots rock.” - Peter Marinus

Bluestown Music - Ben Reel - Locked In & Live review 2022

Irish singer-songwriter Ben Reel is releasing Locked in & Live, an album of eighteen songs, eight live with a full band, three live solo acoustic, and seven studio songs that he recorded during the pandemic, hence “locked in” as part of the title. Two of the acoustic songs are cover versions of Bob Dylan’s “Oh Sister” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Drive All Night,” the latter featuring Reel on the piano. Out of the seven studio tracks there are tribute songs to two great friends who sadly passed away in the last year: Rainbow George Weiss whom Ben co-wrote “U People” and “Scoring Goals” with, and fellow Irish songwriter Tony McLoughlin which Ben co-wrote the song “U Look to Me.” In case you are new to Reel, he is an emotive songwriter in a similar vein to Irish songwriter Ben Glover. Yet, as you listen to this project, Reel’s steeped in soul sound has more in common with Springsteen than the Irish singer you may envision. On the live cuts, Reel plays acoustic guitar and harmonica to the accompaniment of bassist Ronnie O’Flynn, drummer Michael Black, guitarist Mick McCarney, keyboardist John McCullough and background vocals from his partner, Julieanne Black Reel. These same musicians and others join him in the studio except for the track “Tear It Down,” recorded in Nashville with the assistance of guitarist Will Kimbrough, bassist Garry Tallent of E-Street fame, Tommy Womack on background vocals and Evan Hutchings on drums. In the studio, Reel displays his multi-instrumental side, playing multiple guitars, harmonica, bass, percussion, and keys. The selections are mostly hits from his previous albums such as rollicking opener “Tough People” and closer “This Is the Movie,” the sturdily strummed latter certainly one of several Springsteen-esque sounding songs. “Safe and Sound” evokes a pensive, placid mood with its tinkling piano and guitar fills brightening an otherwise dark backdrop while “Like a Breeze” rides on insistent snare beats as Reel’s soulful wail (“red skies in the morning, sailors take warning”), reaches even higher urgency in the repetitive chorus, “This is the last time,” strengthened by Julieanne’s harmonies. Reel’s harmonica and hushed vocals introduce the mysterious “Landscapes” featuring more outstanding keyboard work from McCullough. “Up There In The Sky” is a stirring plea with Reel’s vocal chops rising above the steady keys and guitar. If ever a prayer would to be answered, this one likely will. “Darkness and Light,” the title track of his 2013 release, true to its title, weaves and wobbles with McCarney and McCullough both using wah-wah effects. “Lucky Streak” moves to an infectious shuffling beat, accented by Reel’s harmonica while the aforementioned “This Is the Movie” closes the live set, one full of heartfelt vocals and where the sparer accompaniment generally frames Reel’s aching vocals better than the amped up. So much for that last comment. The studio side begins with a dense backdrop for the driving “2020 Vision,” a song where Ben played all instruments himself and is available on YouTube. “Tear It Down” is the Nashville recorded song, a blistering rock attack in keeping with its protest lyrics against the British Tory party who didn’t care about the consequences of Brexit that could have upended the Irish Good Friday agreement. “When I Was a Boy” is an outtake from his 2013 Darkness & Light, filled with more harmonies from Ben’s better half. The Dylan-esque “Isolation Blues” is a somewhat sarcastic, witty look at the pandemic years, complete with the harmonica in the rack and bit of nasal in his vocal. These are followed by the three heartfelt aforementioned sturdy rocking tribute songs, all three of which are strong. The scathing “U People” (“We don’t want you. We don’t need you. We’re making you redundant, we’re showing you the door”) plays to a reggae beat and Rainbow George Weiss’ voiceover. “Scoring Goals” features the spoken word of Ian Jury. The program ends with the three solo pieces, beginning with a faithful rendering of Dylan’s harmonica assisted “Oh, Sister.” “Old Wise” is a Reel original, done in similar style with guitar and harp-in-the-rack. The stunner is Reel at piano for The Boss’s “Drive All Night,” getting into very deep soul territory. Yet, if you really dig this song, nothing tops Bruce’s performance in the The River Box Set from his performance in Tempe, AZ in 1980, also now available on YouTube. Nonetheless, Reel’s cover, about half as long, is very good too. If this is your introduction to Reel, you’ll be excited to find a great songwriter and one of the more emotive vocalists out there. For a deeper dive into his songwriting, be sure to check out his 2019 The Nashville Calling.” - Jim Hynes

Making a Scene (UK) - 'Locked In & Live' review 2022

The performance, although it is quickly approaching ten-years-old, is serving as a timeless classic at one of the most iconic music venues on Dublin’s music circuit.” - Antony Bailey

Country Music News International - Ben Reel Band - Live @JJ Smyths review (2021)

Live @JJ Smyths reviews (2021)

The music of this Irish band certainly falls under roots rock, but then Irish roots rock. So you are dealing here with powerful, intense folky rock. A great atmospheric live album by the Ben Reel Band.” - Peter Marinus

Bluestown Music - Ben Reel Band - Live @JJ Smyths review (2021)

Ben Reel and his band performed in 2013 at the once iconic blues and jazz venue JJ Smyths situated in Dublin, Ireland. It has now sadly closed its doors in recent years and Ben made the most of the lockdown period by spending a large part of his spare time mixing a live album from the JJ Smyths venue. It has now since been unveiled and is available to download from multiple online platforms. The album contains some original classics that were released from some of his previous albums and coincides with the release of his ‘Darkness And The Light’s’ album which was also released at that time. Covers of ‘A Hard day’s Night’ by The Beatles and ‘The Times They Are A Changing’ by Bob Dylan also make it on to the live recording. The launch of the live album comes exactly eight years after it was initially captured on camera. ‘Darkness And The Light’ kicks off the concert in what feels more like a blues ballad. The Wah peddle draws its audience ever nearer to the song’s underlying meaning as it resounds and lingers in the memory of the listener. ‘River Of Time’ is captivating from start to finish. The switch in rhythm and style combined with the variation in dynamics makes for a true classic in the eyes of a musical connoisseur. ‘What Is Done’ serves as a pleasant reminder to those who needs it most in the sense that life can only be lived, and the past simply cannot be changed whether it is desired or not. The song encourages people to forgive themselves of their own sins and shortcomings because life is simply too short to live in fear, misery, and regret. It contains an irresistibly sensual and suave live guitar solo that makes the listener want to put this on repeat. ‘Feel Alive’ provides an injection of pace and into the tempo and dynamics. ‘’You’re never free until you free your crazy mind/Can you feel our hearts are breaking all the time’’ serves as a reminder to those who need of some emancipation. ‘One Of These Days’ switches to a shuffle rhythm on the drums and includes a recurring melody played on the blues harp. The syncopation and alternation between a common and cut common rhythm provides more tension and musical flavour for one of the most enchanting tracks on the live record. Classic renditions of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and ‘The Times Are A Changing’ compliments the album by adding even more quality to what is already bound to be a classic for many Country and Blues listeners out there. The performance, although it is quickly approaching ten-years-old, is serving as a timeless classic at one of the most iconic music venues on Dublin’s music circuit. Consequently, this album will always serve its audience a heavenly slice of nostalgia and sentimentalism due to the venue no longer being in operation.” - Antony Bailey

Country Music News International - Ben Reel Band - Live @JJ Smyths review

BEN REEL LIVE AT JJ SMYTHS DUBLIN B. Reel Ben Reel is a singer, acoustic guitarist, rack harmonica player and here, leader of a very tight and versatile band. His music is difficult to categorise, except maybe to say that he makes it plainly obvious on this live set, recorded at the legendary Irish venue back in 2013, that he is no fan of “The X-Factor”. That is apparent not only from his between song comments, but also from his own music, the opening track, Darkness & The Light, proves he has a penchant for funk, Heart Just Won’t Heal rides a riff reminiscent of Chariots Of Fire, and Before Your Time reminds me of Americana pioneers’ The Band, a simply beautiful performance. Mention of The Band leads me on to Bob Dylan, whose The Times They Are A Changin’ is given a fine band treatment; so too is The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night, rendered extremely bluesily, and Our Fathers Sins is a powerful ballad, whilst the vocal on Who You Are sounds like a vintage Appalachian performance early on, before it builds a rather awesome head of steam. All Souls Alive is a strutting piece of bluesy rock and roll that also morphs into a reggae-tinged piece. A few lines at the end brought Memphis soul legend Al Green to mind, whilst other soul-flavoured tracks as the set draws to its close are the lovely Sweet Victory (nice falsetto) and Cosmic Shifting, with some fine wah-wah electric guitar playing by Mick McCarney. This Is The Movie closes out this thoroughly entertaining set by managing to seamlessly include just about every style mentioned so far!” - NORMAN DARWEN

— Blues Matters UK - Live @JJ Smyths 2021

The recordings of the tenth album by the Irish Ben Reel Band date from 2013, just after the release of their album 'Darkness & Tbe Light'. The album was recorded at JJ Smyths club in Dublin, a club that closed in 2017 after owner Brian Smyth passed away. The Ben Reel Band at the time consisted of Ben Reel (vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica), his wife Julieanne Black Reel (vocals), Michael Black (drums), Ronnie O'Flynn (bass), Mick McCarney (guitar) and John McCullough ( piano, organ). The music of this Irish band certainly falls under the roots rock, but then Irish roots rock. So you are dealing here with powerful, intense folky rock in which the sound of The Waterboys can be heard more than once. The album opens with Darkness & The Light, an intimate grooving song with powerful vocals and biting guitar work. River Of Time then sounds very pleasant and languid with atmospheric Mark Knopfler-like guitar playing. The band sounds quite fragile in the ballad Before Your Time. There is also powerful rocking on the album, such as in the driving pumping Who You Are to which some Who Are You (the Who) elements have been secretly added. All Souls Alive is an unpolished brooding rocker. The Beatles classic A Hard Day's Night has been transformed into a lazy swaying folkie rocker with bluesy biting guitar work. The cover of Bob Dylan's The Times They Are A Changin' is also impressive due to the combative vocals and the flaming guitar. Sweet Victory is a funky indictment of the Idols and X-Factor bullshit and Cosmic Shifting sounds soulful a la Curtis Mayfield. A great atmospheric live album by the Ben Reel Band. A band that is still active and should therefore be heading our way soon.” - Peter Marinus

Bluestown Music - Ben Reel Band - Live @JJ Smyths review