The opening strains of Ben Glover's Shorebound are unlike any others in his discography. With a steady acoustic strum keeping the song's pace, a sly slide guitar lays down a laid-back riff, and “What You Love Will Break Your Heart” casually swaggers on its way. That cut, and all that follow, are more multi-layered, so Glover and co-producer Neilson Hubbard wanted the music to reflect that.
“It felt time to go bigger sonically, as my last few albums — certainly The Emigrant — have been quite stripped-back and raw,” Glover says. “The sound of Shorebound was achieved partly by having two brilliant guitar players, Kris Donegan and Juan Solarzano, sitting face-to-face in the studio and working off each other.”
The newfound sounds and shapes that comprise Shorebound mark a moment in Glover's musical history — a moment that nods to the past decade of his artistry even while pivoting into the next era. “I’m a believer in cycles, and 2018 will mark ten years since I released my first album,” Glover says, “so it feels very much that this album is a major turning point in a cycle. Shorebound is an acknowledgement of where I am and a celebration of the people who I’ve gotten here with.”
Indeed, collaboration has long filled Glover's career. From co-writing the Americana Music Association UK's 2017 International Song of the Year (“Blackbirds”) with Gretchen Peters to joining forces with Hubbard and Joshua Britt as the Orphan Brigade, playing well with others is something Glover both excels at and enjoys. In addition to co-writing with Hubbard and Peters, he joined forces with friends on both sides of the Atlantic for Shorebound, including Ricky Ross (frontman and songwriter from Scottish rockers Deacon Blue), Kim Richey, Angel Snow, Robert Vincent, Amy Speace, Anthony Toner, and others.
“I’ve been fortunate to work with amazing, fearless artists who have allowed me to deepen and widen my creative process,” he says. “Shorebound features twelve songs, ten of which were co-written with and feature the voices of some of my closest musical cohorts.”
Not only does Shorebound pull together Glover's favourite musical collaborators, it also culls his best life lessons. Where Atlantic and The Emigrant witnessed him searching for his place in the world, geographically and otherwise, Shorebound finds him more settled, within himself, his career, and his two hometowns of Glenarm, N.Ireland, and Nashville, Tennessee.
“Searching for our place in the world is, ultimately, about finding our place within ourselves. I’ve discovered that it’s all about learning to be at ease with wherever or whatever stage we’re at on the journey,” he offers, adding, “Musically, I feel that I’ve found my voice, and I think that certainly adds to the internal sense of belonging. I’m grateful to be surrounded by great people, both in my personal life and in my career, and that strengthens the anchor and the sense of direction.
“I see my collaborators as companions on the search and have discovered that navigating the way is always easier with fellow travellers.”
As a songwriter, Glover's fellow travellers include his co-writers, to be sure, but they also include the characters that they craft. On Shorebound, the characters come fully formed, self-aware and self-possessed enough to keep their compasses set on True North even in the roughest of waters. In “Dancing with the Beast,” which features Peters, the narrator comes face-to-face with his nemesis, but whether that particular demon is psychological or physical is left to the listener's interpretation.
Echoing their partnership on “Blackbirds,” Peters includes her own version of “Dancing with the Beast” as the title track to her new album. She credits Glover's deep empathy and applauds his courage for keeping the male pronouns in the piece. To him, it was more just common sense.
“The Beast always felt masculine to me, right from when Gretchen and I started writing it,” he explains. “Using male pronouns is what the song required and our duty, as singers, is to face the responsibility of delivering the song in the most powerful way. If I had sung it using a female pronoun, I felt I would have been shying away from what the song was demanding.”
And Glover doesn't shy away from much... darkness included. In addition to “Dancing with the Beast,” the underbelly of life exposes itself on “Catbird Seat.” Written with Mary Gauthier when the two were touring Ireland together in 2015, the song delves into the dark side of life. Being Irish, Glover sees that as not only good medicine, but his rightful artistic inheritance: “Our greatest writers and artists have mined that well beautifully and, as I’m very influenced by the Irish greats, it feels natural for me to head into the shadows.
“It was quite exhilarating piecing together this story as we moved around,” he recounts. “There is something extremely unnerving about the person in the enviable, advantageous position of the catbird seat having lethal and destructive intentions. The dark, gothic swagger of the band captures so much of the menacing nature of the story.”
As with life, every dark night eventually gives way to morning's light, and Shorebound is no different. From “Northern Stars,” his collaboration with fellow Irishmen Matt McGinn and Malojian to “Kindness,” one of the set's two solo compositions, the song cycle refuses to be mired only in the muck. In “Kindness,” Glover offers the hope of all good things to all good people, feeling so deeply connected to that message that he confides, “I would go as far as saying that, if there were testimony that I could leave this world, then this song is it.
“It seems pretty clear and simple to me that a lot of problems in this world could be solved if we were kinder to ourselves and kinder to others,” he notes. “I only realized how deep the need for light was when I performed this song live for the first time. Never before had I such a reaction to a song — people came up to me in tears afterwards saying that it really touched them, really moved them. It was very evident to me, at that moment, that it’s essential we try and offer some light through our music. Art connects directly with the soul, and the soul always responds to the light.”