Ben Mason: mining silence for sound

Ben Mason hears voices. The lifelong musician came to Rappahannock County a decade ago in part because . . . well, if you’ve been here for any amount of time you already know this, really:

They’re louder here.

Though the Castleton singer-songwriter is the first to admit to being a little crazy — in a good way, of course — we’re not talking about the voices in the heads of suspense-film psychos, but the voices of nature, and the whispers and shadows found in natural places, impressions left by those who came before.

To hear those, as any artist will tell you, it needs to be quiet — not at all like, for instance, Annandale, Va., where Mason grew up, or Nashville, or the Northern Virginia suburbs where he spent many years playing keyboards, drums and singing in rock bands and as a solo performer (and working day jobs that have evolved into an artistic-repair business, fixing furniture and antiques).

“I couldn’t have connected with the cut-off, shut-off, shut-down places inside me anyplace but here,” says Mason, who shares his Shenandoah stone house on the Thornton River with sons Henry, 13, and Arlo, 10. “The distractions in the city were so great, sonically, it was a bombardment. And I could finally hear when I got out here. And the songs, they just came up out of my own river.”

Mason is talking about his new CD, “Loveland,” produced by him and recorded by former Everything guitarist and once-local producer Steve Van Dam (since relocated to Richmond), released in January. All but one of the 15 tracks were written after his move here in 2000.

“I guess this has been an extremely formative period out here,” he says, and mentions not just losing both his parents in 2003, but his divorce as well, at about the same time — and then, the solace he found among the riparian forests and hills near his new home.

“I’m a rock hound,” he says. “I love walking in the river, finding piees of Indian pottery and arrowheads and stone in the riverbeds.”

Besides his interest in rocks, Mason’s musical background is solidly rock — as in rock and roll — and, on “Loveland,” this makes for a novel mix of drama and introspection. “Loveland” appears to be by turns an organic, heartfelt, mystical and fun place where, say, David Byrne and Enya could comfortably hold hands and watch the sun set. Or explode.

There are love songs, louder songs and some clear expressions of love for this place – “Rappahannock” and “Every One of Us” among the best. “Sweet Virginia” is a muted, driving shuffle that makes the long-ago presence hereabouts of so many mothers’ sons wearing Confederate gray as real as a walk — or an anxious trot — along the present-day Hazel River. In “Dead to You” — a piano- and regret-laden fantasy about a CIA assassin’s identity change — Mason’s comfortably quirky tenor and startlingly evocative lyrics are most memorably matched.

Mason has two previous CDs, but says this latest is different than the rest. “My first record was actually called “River Deep in Me,” he says. “I put that out in 1991 — but I wasn’t prepared for the fact that, 10 years later, I would live on a river and I would walk in it and find pieces of my own past, and the past of those who lived here before us.

“The songs are there in all of us,” he says. “We just have to get away from the distractions to hear them.”

Mason performs at 1 p.m. this Sunday (April 25) as part of the Warrenton Wine and Arts Festival, St. John the Evangelist School, 111 King St., Warrenton (warrentonwineandarts.org), with Van Dam and Mason’s 13-year-old son Henry.

Quick Facts

Who: Singer-songwriter Ben Mason

What: His new self-produced CD, “Loveland,” is available on iTunes, CDBaby.com and at benmasonsongs.com. Mason performs at the Warrenton Wine & Arts Festival, St. John the Evangelist School, 111 King St., Warrenton.

When: 1 p.m. Sunday (festival runs noon to 6 Saturday and noon to 5 Sunday; information at warrentonwineandarts.org).

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Roger Piantadosi
About Roger Piantadosi 534 Articles
Former Rappahannock News editor Roger Piantadosi is a writer and works on web and video projects for Rappahannock Media and his own Synergist Media company. Before joining the News in 2009, he was a staff writer, editor and web developer at The Washington Post for almost 30 years.