In Straight Bars and Guns, Berlin-based singer/songwriter Benjamin Roemer Seidl gives listeners a good dose of raw and honest indie folk, both with his raspy vocals and his openness about real-life issues. The EP begins with the stripped-down "Russian Roulette," which features finger-picking, percussion, a cello and, appropriately, the sound of bullet casings falling to the floor. Although it's not the best song of the five, "Roulette" definitely gives us the overall flavor for the EP, but it's more like the appetizer than the main course.
The next track, "Shots Fired," is advice from a parent to a son. We know the son's in danger from the opening lines, "Come home, child / it's on the news," and we discover he's a cop in the second verse, which says, "Be safe, son, in all you do / and as you keep the peace like you promised to / hope you know we're proud of you / remember your badge is a shield but it's not bullet-proof." Like "Russian Roulette," the acoustic guitar and strings pair well with the straightforward lyrics and Seidl's emotional vocals. The direct approach is often a good thing in folk, though a siren in the background right after the line about the badge is so obvious, it's borderline cheesy. Still, "Shots Fired" is a solid track, and it's where the EP begins to hit its stride.
The final three tracks, "Still Good News," "Straight Bars and Guns" and "The Darkside of Grace" arguably contain Roemer's strongest and most cohesive songwriting. "Still Good News" is a haunting track, both musically and lyrically. It brings passages like Job 1:21 to mind as Seidl sings, "Bless the Lord O my soul when work is hard to find / bless the Lord O my soul when rent will fall behind." The second and third verses grow progressively darker, so that the subject matter goes from financial uncertainty to the finality of divorce before ending with, "Bless the Lord O my soul when bullets start to fly / bless the Lord O my soul when brothers lose their lives." But the crux of the song is in the pre-chorus: "when your Promised Land, your best laid plans, are hidden from our sight / you're still good news to all whose daily bread is dry." In other words, no matter the tragedy or trial, the Gospel still remains true.
"Straight Bars and Guns" is just as honest as "Still Good News," though this time, Seidl examines the lies we tell ourselves about our own sins. He fakes us out with the opening lines, "Sing your songs of gladness / sing your songs of joy" before giving us more context with, "forget about the sadness / forget about the poor." Instead of getting a giddy folk song, we realize that this person's gladness and joy is more of a protective mechanism than anything else, especially when we get to the chorus: "You're double-fisting your daddy's whiskey and rum / and you're drunk on soundbites / you're drunk on battles won." The last half of the chorus expounds on this, saying that this person will trade the meaningful things in his life to keep the "safeguards" he uses to block out anything painful.
"The Darkside of Grace" musically picks up where "Still Good News" left off with more eerie found sounds backing Seidl and his guitar. Lyrically, it follows the theme of alcoholism from "Straight Bars and Guns," opening with, "On the darkside of grace, got a taste for the hard stuff / went out in a blaze, shipwrecked in the bottle." At the end of the verse, he struggles with the age-old question, "Was I born this way?" but he doesn't give us an answer. Instead, he echoes Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 with the chorus, "We look for the Resurrection of the dead and the life to come," reminding us of the ultimate hope we have in Christ.
Even though Straight Bars and Guns only contains five songs, Benjamin Seidl and his band pack an album's-worth of sorrow and hope into this EP, making it a good listen during these uncertain times.- Review date: 3/27/20, written by Andrea Hardee of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: Old Bear Records
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