Benjamin Dakota Rogers grew up on his family’s tobacco farm in Southwestern Ontario where he was surrounded by old-time folk music. He’s been playing his great-grandfather’s violin and singing with his parents around the fire since he was 7 years old, spending his summers riding a VW van to fiddle competitions and festivals. He now lives and records music in one of the family barns.
Early last year, he began posting acoustic videos on TikTok as he fleshed out lyrics to a song called “John Came Home,” and the clips quickly amassed over 10.5 million views. Listeners were enthralled as the murder ballad unfolded, telling the story of a veteran who returns home from war only to discover that his wife has moved on.
Rogers has since written and recorded an entire album of songs about rural life that seem to be pulled from a time far beyond his years. Named Paint Horse, his new record compiles a set of 13 tracks that he calls his most honest work. Rogers explains what inspired his burst of creativity in this excerpt from the liner notes below:
“In the winter of 2022—in my little studio surrounded by familiarity—I found myself picking old tunes, restringing my fiddle, and falling in love with storytelling again. Conversing with my grandfather about his youth, working ranches and riding in the rodeo, and my father, a construction worker tired and sore from years of hard labour. I became frustrated realizing the night skies around our farm weren’t quite as dark as they used to be as housing developments creep ever closer, spoiling what’s left of wild places with their uniform lines of artificial light. The things I didn’t know how to talk about became songs. They came to me blunt and fast.”
Last November, Rogers shared a new song from the upcoming album called “Arlo” that evoked comparisons to artists like Tyler Childers and Zach Bryan. Written as a solemn protest against the overdevelopment of the countryside where he grew up, the tragic story he weaves mourns all the “family farms lost to progress.” Rogers sings of his fictional protagonist: He used to own some cornfields up in old Illinois / Developments grew like cancerous tumors and the government bled him dry / He held on just long enough to watch his son grow up / The bank called, they took it all, left him with nothing but his luck.
While “John Came Home” and “Arlo” display the darker, more serious songwriting that appears throughout much of the record, Rogers describes his most recent single “Maggie” as the only lighthearted love song he’s ever written. It tells the story of the “prettiest girl in town” for whom Rogers portrays an intense admiration of her independence, backed by upbeat, foot-stomping, old-time rhythms. It’s a perfect representation of how his unique style and storytelling ability can create something new and exciting that also sounds like it was discovered in a forgotten book of traditional folk ballads.
Benjamin Dakota Rogers will release Paint Horse on February 17th. Follow him on TikTok (@benjamin_dakota_rogers) for more updates.
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