Americana is an easy label to slap on Ben Bostick’s new album Grown Up Love but misses the larger picture. Bostick utilizes an assortment of traditional instruments seldom used in modern songwriting and his influences skew towards the blues/folk end of the spectrum but, more than anything else, these tracks are an auditory document, an autobiographical statement set to music. Bostick is unabashed about the album’s inspiration. He and his wife discovered, with a global pandemic placing lives in jeopardy, their oldest daughter has Rett Syndrome, a disorder affecting every aspect of her life. These songs take listeners through every aspect of the experience.
It is as much a document about the ties that bind. The breakup or divorce album is a popular trope in rock songwriting, witness Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, but Bostick breaks with that and writes about love facing and enduring towering challenges. It isn’t purely Pollyanna tripe, the songs have a practical perspective, His take on long term relationships is fresh. “Different Woman” has a handful of gently surprising turns of phrase illustrating his individuality and distinctive style.
He has more imagination than cookie cutter singer/songwriter contemporaries There is a basic foundation underlying the arrangement reliant on fundamentals, above all else, but Bostick deepens its effects on listeners with judicious saxophone. His singing sounds natural and never stumbles over its phrasing; Bostick knows exactly what tone he wants to achieve and does it with apparent little effort. “Shades of Night” is a little bit of a come down from the opener but nevertheless effective. There are tracks included on the album falling well within the category of “love songs” but they are mature takes on the timeless theme rather than pandering to the catalog of tropes long powering this type of song.
Hearing the vocals makes it obvious how important this song is for Bostick. He never lapses into overwrought histrionics but, nevertheless, invests the lyrics with hushed emotion befitting his words. It’s an expression of gratitude in the middle of a raging storm. The cataloging inclinations of the album’s third track “Lucky Us” may not appeal to some listeners while others will find his comparisons revealing, satisfying, and relatable. Some listeners will likewise believe he makes a small misstep with the declamatory delivery he adopts during the song’s bridge. If it is a mistake, however, it is a minor one.
Kathleen Ray’s French horn makes important contributions to the track “Under the Palmetto Moon”, but it isn’t the only one. Light echo applied to Jack Jones’ drums is a nice touch and the recurrent synth swells brings low-key color to the work. It is lyrically slighter than other tracks but, nonetheless, pleasing. The album’s nominal title song “A Grown Up Kind of Love” strips Bostick’s presentation down to bare essentials. The performance revolves around him with the songwriter contributing vocals, bass, Wurlitzer, and acoustic guitar. He’s joined by Rob Burger’s accordion but nothing else. It’s a thoughtful and deeply felt track but not the album’s centerpiece. Grown Up Love, unlike many releases, doesn’t hinge on one or two showcase tracks. It is one of the most coherent albums in recent memory and, with each track feeding off the other, its effects are cumulative rather than isolated. It’s well worth seeking out and revisiting as often as possible.