July 25, 2009 / 3:43 AM / 10 years ago

Songwriter Benson steps out solo with "Friend"

NEW YORK (Billboard) - Brendan Benson harbors no illusions about why people might know his name.

“I’ve been making records on my own for a long time,” the Nashville-based singer-songwriter says, “but it wasn’t until the Raconteurs that I experienced real success.”

The Raconteurs, of course, are the popular garage-rock outfit Benson formed in 2005 with Jack White of the White Stripes, and Benson isn’t exaggerating about the spike in popularity: At 522,000 copies (according to Nielsen SoundScan), the Raconteurs’ “Broken Boy Soldiers” has sold nearly 20 times as many copies as Benson’s best-selling solo album, 2005’s “The Alternative to Love.”

But, although Benson says he’s willing to do whatever it takes to promote his new album, “My Old, Familiar Friend” (due August 18 from ATO), there’s one thing he won’t allow: a shrink-wrap sticker describing him as a member of the Raconteurs.

“I want to do this on my own merit,” Benson says, “and if it’s successful, I’d like it to be something I can be proud of, to be able to say, ‘This is my accomplishment,’ without riding on anyone’s coattails. The other thing is, people who don’t know my solo stuff and who are only fans of the Raconteurs, they might be disappointed if this record is marketed that way. It’s really nothing like the Raconteurs, so it’s a matter of not tricking people.”

Like Benson’s earlier solo work, “My Old, Familiar Friend” is a collection of impeccably crafted power-pop long on catchy melodies and lovelorn lyrics. Uptempo numbers like “A Whole Lot Better” and “Poised and Ready” work up some respectable guitar fuzz, but the Gil Norton-produced set also contains much more delicate material, such as “Gonowhere,” a dreamy, Todd Rundgren-esque ballad.

According to ATO marketing director Jon Salter, the label shares Benson’s desire to sell “Friend” without “piggybacking off the Jack White connection.” (Benson says with a laugh that he was surprised ATO agreed to forgo the sticker.) Naturally, Salter says, the label wants to put the new album in front of the Raconteurs’ sizable fan base — “but in an organic way that acknowledges Brendan’s history and the beautiful records he’s made.”

Benson’s manager, Alan Mintz, says his goal is to “reintroduce” his client as a solo artist in the wake of the Raconteurs’ mainstream success. “There’s basically a million Brendan Benson fans out there already who just don’t know they’re Brendan Benson fans,” Mintz says. “This album is a confirmation of what a special solo artist he is and how the Raconteurs are a great piece of that spectrum — but they’re just one piece.”

Indeed, Benson says he already has his next two non-Raconteurs projects in the can: an album of outtakes from the “Friend” sessions and a duo album with the young country singer Ashley Monroe, whom he met last year when the Raconteurs drafted Monroe and Ricky Skaggs to help record a bluegrass version of “Old Enough.”

“I’ve always sort of got a couple of things cooking,” Benson says. “But I’ve blocked out at least the next year for this record. I’m in it for the long haul.”

Editing by SheriLinden at Reuters

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