Friday, April 25, 2014

Bengt Washburn's "Bengt Over in Europe"




I used to like “The Blacklist.” It’s a good show and my wife and I enjoyed sitting down together to watch it. I don’t know what happened, though. Somewhere along the line I started checking my laptop more and more often while it was on. Then I picked up a magazine or a book and found myself reading instead of paying attention to the screen. The same thing happened with “Person of Interest.” We were weekly viewers and then….I tuned out. I honestly believe they’re good shows and enjoyed them when I actually gave them my full attention. Nothing “happened” to make me say, “OK, this is ridiculous, I’ve had enough” (Like I did with “The Following”), I just…tuned out.

Unfortunately, the same thing happened each time I listened to “Bengt Over in Europe,” the new album from Bengt Washburn. I was sitting at home on the couch, started the album, and really got into it. He’s a likable guy with an interesting story: He’s a Mormon from Utah in the big world and he now lives in Germany with his military wife. It’s a premise rife with lots of material and Washburn uses every last bit of it. It’s a fun fish out of water tale that includes learning a foreign language (all he’s learned is how to speak American viss a German ak-zent), discovering where Europe keeps all of its trash (Italy), and the wonders of remaining seated on an airplane toilet while flushing.

Washburn has a great bit on IBS and his proposal to replace the word “irritable” with “psychotic” is not without reason. My favorite track comes early on when he tackles the challenge of learning the Chinese language. His line about the characters of their alphabet being more of a series of drawings of sheds killed me and I loved it when he explained that a smooshed spider (minus the body) more than likely spells out a phrase.

And then…I just sort of zoned out. As Washburn continued to talk about being a Mormon from Utah in the big world, my mind started to wander. I listened to the album twice more (once during a walk downtown and once in the car), and both times I found myself checking out right around the halfway point. I suspect the reason is that Washburn confesses he’s a Mormon from Utah in the big world.

It’s not because he’s a Mormon from Utah living in the big world that I checked out, but because he continued to go back to the “Mormon from Utah living in a big world” well over and over again and each time around, his stories began to lose their freshness. Not that I’m against someone staying on the same subject, but there needs to be just a little bit more oomph to justify hammering the "Mormon from Utah living in the big world" routine as repeatedly as Washburn does.

Even though I don’t watch anymore, I wouldn’t tell someone not to watch “The Blacklist” or “Person of Interest” because I genuinely think they’re really well done (and the ratings show people seem to enjoy them).  Likewise, I wouldn’t try to deter someone from picking up Washburn’s album. Yes, it's true, the entire project didn't keep me riveted, but I believe it's going to find an audience.


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