Although his music has been compared to that of James Taylor, Michael Penn, Jeffrey Gaines and Suzanne Vega, Saratoga Springs resident Benjamin Wagner has his roots in a somewhat louder tradition.
While an undergraduate at Syracuse University, Wagner led a jangly alternative-rock aggregatioin called Smokey Junglefrog, which opened concerts for Dada, the Samples and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.
“The Replacements Paul Westerberg is more my style as a songwriter. I love the way his music can be aggressive, yet still close to the heart,” said Wagner, who will perform 8 pm Friday at the Back Door Cafe.
For “Bloom,” Wagner’s second solo recording, the 23-year-old singer-songwriter returned to the acoustic format. “I think it was a reaction to the years of distortion,” he said during a recent telephone interview.
Born in Iowa City, Iowa, Wagner lived in Maryland, Indiana, Illinois and Pennsylvania before attending Syracuse University as a journalism and creative writing major. After graduation he relocated to Saratoga Springs, and between his job as manager of the Uncommon Grounds coffeeshop, he recorded “Bloom” in the winter of 1994.
One of the disc’s strongest tracks is “Red River Fall,” an eerie dissection of the breakup of a marriage.
“It’s not wholly autobiographical; neither of my parents are near the ogres depicted in the song,” he said. “But they divorced when I was 10, and for a child of any age, it’s a disturbing experience.”
“The song is about the gulf that can form between two people, and when I began writing it, my own feelings began spilling out.”
For “Ribbon,” written about the AIDS crisis in America, Wagner was inspired by Tom Hanks portrayal of a dying AIDS sufferer in “Philidelphia.”
“He took a disease that was an abstract and put a human face on it,” he said. “The song was my reaction to the enormous toll AIDS has taken.”
And then there’s “She Said, She Said,” not to be confused with the 1966 Beatles song off the same name. “I swear I didn’t realize that they had written a song with the same title,” he said with a laugh. “Now I’m not hearing the end of it!”
The Post-Star (Glenns Falls, NY)