RECORD REVIEW, ROCK DADDY MAGAZINE | 1972
Hindsight is always a cold-hearted bitch. Devon Bentley was a head case. Anyone who had to personally deal with him—whether his ex-band mates who threw him to the curb, or this writer, who once was caught in his maelstrom for a lost weekend in San Francisco—could attest to his mercurial nature.
Devon Bentley was also a genius. Perhaps it took a seriously damaged personality to fully capture the zeitgeist of our troubled times. Bentley’s new—and sadly ironically titled—album, A-OK, does just that.
Starting the album with the slow, meditative lope of Hold Me Down, Bentley’s trademark rock solid rhythm guitar anchors his plaintive vocal to the Earth. It’s easy to read too much into Bentley’s entreating Come with me / Hold me down / I feel like I’m losing my grip / On the ground; but the entirety of Bentley’s output could be read as a cry for help, albeit, a consistently tuneful one.
A weary resignation has crept into Bentley’s consciousness by the title track where a swirling guitar figure underscores an exhausted soul coming to terms with leaving all his worldly possessions in the care of others. I’m glad that you still care / About all the thousand things / That I can no longer bear.
A radio-friendly jangle of acoustic guitars announces the freedom that Bentley has found in letting go in Clear Skies. Ex-Nightingale drummer Nigel “Woody” Woodrow provides his trademark skittering background as if trying to escape the session before being caught up once again in Bentley’s drama.
Should we infer anything by whatever olive branch brought his contentious former band mate back into Bentley’s creative circle? Was Bentley making amends intuiting that time was short, or did he just need a damn good drummer to propel the obvious breakout single?
Whatever peace Bentley found in rekindling an old friendship has clearly eroded by the arrival of the tense and jittery Sliding Away [From It All]. Woody reprises his rhythm work on this track, laying down a solid foundation for Bentley’s precarious emotional house of cards, while a trio of background gospel singers try to provide a modicum of tranquility behind the singer’s fragile vocal.
Woody has since talked about the A-OK sessions as a coke-fuelled Boschian nightmare, which would explain Bentley’s clipped and manic avian-sounding chirps leading into the fadeout. Or does it?
By the time A-OK hits mid-point, the album has eased into its horse latitudes, a calming tropic of mid-tempo songcraft that would stand out as a handful of highlights on a lesser artist’s record. Bentley, however, is merely lulling the unsuspecting listener into a false sense of security.
Bentley suddenly kicks the speakers wide open with Power Games, a ferocious slab of pure, uncut funk, that could have established him as a viable photo-negative answer to James Brown himself. This writer, for one, would have loved to see Devon Bentley live long enough to have blown minds and moved asses on the new Soul Train television show.
Perhaps A-OK’s most beguiling, and hauntingly beautiful, song is the closing track. Named after a mythical kingdom in ancient Buddhist and Hindu lore, Shamballa has come to generally refer to a spiritually pure place where wizened “sun worshippers” live out their long lives in bliss.
One can hear the primal yearning for such a place in Bentley’s impassioned delivery behind a soaring orchestration incorporating exotic instrumentation from the Far East. It’s a shame he never found what he was looking for.
Grade: Cinco Papás de la Roca