Why hello there. Some fine fine reviews coming in for the new album. Someone told me “I hope you’re putting them on your website!” but she won’t even check and besides what would she know? Websites. So five years ago. Anyway looks like the stars really were my destination, everyone! I feel totes validated.
So here we go, in order of amounts of stars awarded (which indicate, if you didn’t know, more than any other single element, artistic worth of a given album/restaurant/Uber driver)
The Age + Sydney Morning Herald:
THE STARS MY DESTINATION
The seeds of songwriter Ben Salter’s follow-up album to 2011’s The Cat were sewn with the EPs, countless solo shows, group performances with the Gin Club, the Wilson Pickers and others, plus the many collaborations he’s struck up over 15 years. The Stars My Destination is a fully realised collection of songs that bring Salter’s distinct voice to the fore, while Dan Luscombe (guitar, keys), Adrian Stoyles (bass), Gus Agars (drums) and top-notch guest musicians make this journey all the more enjoyable. From brilliant string arrangements and the mellow acoustic moments to heavier, superbly crafted dramatic flourishes, this is sure to feature in many 2015 best album lists.
– MARTIN BOULTON
The Weekend Australian:
The Stars My Destination
A man in possession of one of Australia’s finest songwriting minds and most distinctive voices, Ben Salter is a career musician who has plied his trade with an array of projects, most notably the acclaimed Brisbane folk-rock collective The Gin Club since its inception in 2003. With that band he has authored and performed dozens of memorable songs, and although the Gin Club usually features seven or eight players on stage, Salter is often out front, singing and strumming. 2011 saw the release of his solo debut, The Cat, a strong collection that earned him a Queensland Music Award for album of the year. Its follow-up is stronger still, comprising 11 songs that only underline his formidable abilities.
Recorded a year ago at a Central Queensland cattle property with the assistance of guitarist/keyboardist and producer Dan Luscombe (The Drones), as well as fellow Gin Club members Adrian Stoyles (bass) and Gus Agars (drums), The Stars My Destination is an impressive, immersive listen. From the delicate string section that adds colour to his finger-picked acoustic guitar in stark track Parrot Day, to the sharp edges of the instant-classic rocker Boat Dreams, this is a varied and intelligent set of songs.
Midway through track eight, I Just Can’t Live Like This Anymore, Salter’s voice is heard urging his bandmates: “Alright, let’s live a little, boys!” Luscombe launches into a tight keyboard solo while Stoyles and Agars dependably hold down the rhythm. It’s just one memorable moment on an album filled with them. The Cat was a laudable debut, but it’s The Stars My Destination that establishes Salter’s position alongside songwriting luminaries such as Paul Kelly, Gareth Liddiard and Tim Rogers.
Phew! Two four and a half star reviews! From both the Fairfax and Murdoch heavyweights! I’m stoked. Thanks Martin and Andrew. Anyway next up we have Queensland’s The Courier Mail:
“Ben Salter, The Stars My Destination
(ABC Music) ****
Ben Salter, as anyone knows who has kept an eye on Australian music these past 15 years, is a hard man to pin down.
There is his hard-rock self (Giants of Science), the musical director content to take the occasional turn in the spotlight (The Gin Club), the banjo-picking harmony singer (the bluegrass-inspired The Wilson Pickers), and collaborations of every stripe.
Why isn’t he better known than he is? That’s hard to explain when his first solo album, 2011’s The Cat, was a five-star classic, and a song like The Gin Club’s You Me and the Sea is one of the best songs anyone has written in the past 10 years.
He mightn’t have gold records or ARIA awards but there are plenty of people who have both who can’t do what Salter has managed, which is maintain a career that’s still growing.
For most of the past few years he has been on the move as a solo troubadour, playing everywhere from private backyard parties to extended jaunts across Europe, collecting dozens of tunes he has written on his laptop along the way.
For this album he’s followed his work method with The Gin Club, which is to return to one of his favourite spots on the planet, the Prior Park cattle station in central Queensland, with long-time recording engineer Murray Pass and, on this occasion, musician friends including fellow Gin Clubbers Angus Agars and Adrian Stoyles and producer Dan Luscombe (The Drones).
The result is certainly a rock record, not a solo troubadour one. It opens with the wide-open spaces of the title tune, no doubt inspired as much by the clear skies and the Milky Way above Prior Park as much as Alfred Bester’s 1956 sci-fi novel. “You know how much I hate goodbyes,’’ sings Salter — as an ever-travelling travelling musician he knows all about that — as a church organ cascades around him.
Boat Dreams is driven by pounding drums and scything electric guitars, in the same hard-as-nails territory as The Drones; The Sleep Stealer is the kind of rootsy rocker he might contribute to The Gin Club; Vile Rats uses elements of jazz without being jazz — chunky piano chords, skipping rhythm and superb sax from Julien Wilson.
Lyrically things are quite ambiguous thus far. It’s when the imagery becomes more concrete that things really catch fire; the country-rock of I Gotta Move, with string quartet and lonesome lap steel guitar; the existential philosophy and soaring melody of Bones Under The Dunes; the note-to-self that these are only first-world problems, after all, in No Security Blues.
There’s even room for some old-school pop fun on the ’60s-fired I Just Can’t Live Like This Anymore, where Salter ruefully admits “I’m not getting older but I’m not getting any wiser.’’
Musically at least, The Stars My Destination is evidence to the contrary.
Next cab off the rank is The Guardian Australia, some lefty rag that escaped from the UK and is now subverting a new generation of gullible Australians with their crazy ideas about renewable energy. Written by my old chum Everett True. Check out our amazing musical collaboration here, or just read on, Macduff:
“Ben Salter: The Stars My Destination review – hugely affecting Australiana
There’s a certain strain of Australian music that seems to draw its strength direct from the soil. It doesn’t, of course. Not really. It’s a construct. It’s recorded in a studio with flashing lights and fancy recording devices like most everything else – even if the studio is situated on a cattle farm 40km outside of Rockhampton.
The Stars My Destination, the second solo album from Ben Salter (The Gin Club, The Young Liberals, Giants Of Science) feels like that. It is something to do with the drawn-out beats, the pining slide guitar, and a voice turned to honey-gravel by whiskey and cigarettes and love. This is classic Australiana. This music could not come from anywhere else.
It’s “a landscape filled with bones,” as Salter sings on the emollient Bones Under The Dunes, sounding like a hopeful Kristofferson or forgotten 1970s Ringo Starr collaborator. Questioning. Always questioning.
The single Boat Dreams is extraordinary; jagged and alienated, guitars a crescendo of crucifixion. It could be about Australia’s disgraceful attitude towards immigration . It could be about long-deserted love. Either way, it is a massively affecting song, beautifully crafted between collecting firewood for early morning campfires.
The haunting Parrot Day might be even better, with its repeated refrain of “isn’t fair/ isn’t fair is not an alibi”. It could be anyone, anywhere. It is scared, and not scared to admit it is scared. This vulnerability at the heart of much of Salter’s music lifts him above most of his contemporaries with their swagger and poise. Salter is too worried for shows of bravado.
The band are great. Never intrusive, always sympathetic, produced by keyboard-guitar-player Dan Luscombe (the Drones, Courtney Barnett) and Gin Club members Adrian Stoyles (bass) and Gus Agars (drums). It feels like they understand one another.
The music seems timeless, in the way certain strains of Australian music (The Triffids, Hunters And Collectors) have always felt timeless. It is not, of course. It is conditioning, the knowledge that this sound is not as dependent on fashion as, say, Gotye, but still belongs in 2015 because there are so many people out there, left behind. Needing the solace of reflection.
Ben Salter Facebook Twitter Pinterest
Ben Salter: questioning, always questioning.
If this was America, we might be taking a slow train across cornfields with The Band and friends: knocking back bottle after bottle, immersed in a male world of good-time camaraderie and easy laughter … except Salter is more driven than that, lost in his worlds of lost love and paranoia.
“I’m getting older/ But I’m not getting wiser,” he sing-sighs on the inappropriately jaunty I Just Can’t Live Like This Anymore, a song as great as prime You Am I. Probably greater. It’s the burr in Salter’s voice, the slight falter as around him strings soar (courtesy of former Thin Kid Scotty Regan) and bass sings. He stumbles, momentarily. He stumbles, and once again he is lost.
The wonder of this music is that it really is unconcerned with fashion. A saxophone funky and ready for a brawl threads through Vile Rat like it’s on day release from Seinfield. The angry-to-be-navel-gazing No Security Blues pays better tribute to the Drones’ oeuvre of politicised social angst than anyone this side of Courtney Barnett. Sure, you’ve heard it before but who cares when it’s done with such feeling?
The Stars My Destination (title taken from a 1950s Alfred Bester science fiction novel) might have been recorded on a cattle station, but it’s imbued with … the blues. Soulfulness. The odd burst of 1970s AM radio rock. Nostalgia for a future yet to come.
The AU Review:
“Ben Salter is a singer/songwriter completely comfortable in his own skin. His second solo album The Stars My Destinationprojects a big band sound upon what are essentially beautifully written pop songs. Memorable vocal melodies and uplifting open chord progressions are on show throughout this album, but I’d be selling the track list short to suggest Salter is just your average Australiana storyteller with an acoustic guitar on hand; there are a multitude of instrumental layers on this album, all of which emanate a gripping emotional hold.
Ben Salter is a musician who has stood the test of time. While it has been five years since the release his debut solo album,The Cat, his career has expanded over 15 years with bands such as Giants of Science, The Gin Club, The Young Liberals andThe Wilson Pickers. There is no doubt he knows how to write and produce a cracking tune. But more than this, his latest solo album suggests that he is right on the money when it comes to finding that sweet spot where every piece makes sense, and compliments the other. What is left is an inspired, seamlessly beautiful listening experience.
The title track perfectly projects the notion of stars and space and the enormity and weightlessness they portray. As Salter sings in the chorus, “Tonight the stars are my destination. You know the stars are my destination”, all of our cares in the world dissolve into the background, and we are compelled to hit the road and begin this magnetic journey into the distance with Salter by our side. It’s a wonderful beginning.
There is a little bit of everything in this album; Salter brings out every instrument he has in his musical arsenal, and as he pulls off rock to pop with hints of jazz and soul, there is no denying he’s at the top of his game. Lead single “Boat Dreams” is a pulsating angular concoction, equipped with enveloping distorted guitar chords and Salter’s trademark acoustic guitar. It leans closer to a rock song with a verse-chorus progression that culminates in a final guitar lead, and layers of compounding instrumentation. Next we have “Parrot Day” which embodies the folk tradition of solemn guitar notes and the intimate nature of contemplative vocals, later met by the moody, shimmering splendour of violins and piano. “I Just Can’t Live Like This Anymore” is an upbeat boogie, funky and bluesy, it even has an organ solo just so the point hits home: get up and dance.
Despite an obvious emphasis placed upon musical vitality and diversity, Salter’s lyrics still pack a powerful punch. On “The Translator”, he sings, “If I master every language will I master myself more. Maybe master these emotions, that I have no words for”. It’s candid expressions like this where Salter is at his introspective best. “No Security Blues” is a more tongue-in-cheek look at ‘first world problems’ but in the hands of Salter, there is no chance that the message won’t hit home with potency: “I will read a paper, with my tea and toast. Left to my devices, well I’m doing better than most. These are not real problems.”
Salter enlisted help on the album from Dan Luscombe (The Drones, Courtney Barnett) who produced and played on it, fellow Gin Clubbers Adrian Stoyles and Gus Agars, and guest appearances from Liz Stringer, John Beddgood and Seja Vogel. Beyond his insightful lyrical prowess and genuine songwriting skill, these inclusions evoke a greater richness and depth. There is something for everyone here, yet perhaps most importantly; quality never makes way for quantity.
Review Score:: 7.9 out of 10
– Chris Scott
The Stars My Destination is out now. A special two disc edition of the release also includes a Live at the Northcote Social Club CD.”