CD Review: HBS "In Deep Owl"

October 29, 2013

Ben Shepherd
Ben Shepherd (aka Hunter Benedict Shepherd, or HBS) clearly didn’t take Soundgarden’s 13-year hiatus lying down. Shepherd started work on In Deep Owl in late 2009—“partly as a ‘where is he now’ note to the world,” he quips—and finished it just before Soundgarden reunited. The album is a testament to his versatility as a bassist, guitarist, singer, and songwriter.

His command emerges forcefully on the lead-off single “Collide,” a brooding ode defined by a serpentine bass line that slithers between, around, and below a quietly strummed acoustic guitar and haunting mandolin melody. For most of the album, Shepherd leans heavily on “Baron,” his main Mexican-made Fender P-Bass [a beat-up axe with a Leo Quan Badass II bridge and worn-in, heavy gauge GHS Bass Boomers]; on “Collide,” the thick, direct-to-the-board sound brings out all the nuanced overtones of his fluid technique. He often cites Charles Mingus, Black Flag’s Chuck Dukowski, and his Soundgarden predecessor Hiro Yamamoto as influences, and each comes through in his steady left hand, agile fingering, and jazzy note choices.

The coolest revelation about In Deep Owl is how it holds together as a statement, from the murder ballads “Stone Pale” and “The Train You Can’t Win” [the latter with bowed bass by Steve Kim] to the marauding, low-toned grooves of “Loose Ends” and “Neverone Blues.” Joined by a monster tag team of drummers—Matt Cameron, Matt Chamberlain, Joseph Braley, and Greg Gilmore—Shepherd delivers a compelling effort that seizes the dark side of Seattle by the throat.

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