Clarinetist Dave Bennett’s Mack Avenue debut, 2013’s Don’t Be That Way, showcased an artist capably tackling and updating music associated with Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Woody Herman and Pete Fountain. In essence, it positioned him as a next-gen swing king with a penchant for taking playful strolls. This follow-up, while retaining that image and ideal in select places, is something of a toned-down story.
Five of the album’s 11 tracks are Bennett originals, written collaboratively with pianist Shelly Berger, and most present with muted lyricism. Half of the covers that make up the balance fall in line with those gentle numbers, furthering the aesthetic of the ruminating artist. The introductory triptych—“Blood Moon,” “A Long Goodbye” and “Falling Sky”—typifies Bennett’s newfound wistfulness, as do the appropriately sedate takes on Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman” that immediately follow.
It’s not until the midpoint—a swing- and bop-friendly ride through “(Back Home Again In) Indiana”—that the Bennett of old comes out to play. From that point on he diversifies his portfolio. The Goodman-esque “13 Fingers” and the swampy “Down in Honky Tonk Town” provide a much-needed double-shot of excitement while easily differentiating themselves; a polished take on “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” buffs out the rough edges in Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti-western sound; and a relatively direct “In My Life” honors the truth and sincerity endemic to the Lennon-McCartney partnership. Then the album arrives at its end by coming full circle with “Heavy Heart,” a mournful beauty emphasizing Bennett’s purity of tone and spirit. Blood Moon doesn’t blot out the light that previously emanated from Bennett, but it certainly invites darker shadows and deeper shades of thought into the frame with him.