Much lauded in several well-known publications, Rhian Benson’s Gold Coast finds a comfy home on the less-than-gold coasts here in the United States. Her solo debut, in addition to her background, reminds listeners of the importance of persistence in the field of songwriting. Having written every song on Gold Coast and played a valuable part in its production, Benson serves as a refreshing voice among her peers, offering an honest take on love lost and gained.
While Billboard charts are generally poisoned by no-talent hacks delivering the lyrics and musical compositions of another, Rhian Benson challenges this norm by doing her own thing. She opens herself up repeatedly on this record, exposing her inner turmoil resulting from relationship entanglements as well as her relentless defiance in the face of emotional strain.
Rhian was born in Ghana, West Africa. Her ability to write and score her straightforward verse comes from her very musical parents: her mother, a Welsh-born singer, and her father, a guitarist and naval officer in Africa. Benson first wrote songs in India, where she began studying piano at a very young age. After attending the London School of Economics, presumably pursuing a field only slightly more boring than watching golf tournaments or paint dry, she was accepted at Harvard to study banking. Benson’s studies were interrupted when her mother grew very ill in London. Rhian quickly traded New England for regular England to take on a rigorous nursing schedule in bringing her mother safely through radiation, chemotherapy, and back to health. While doing so, she fortunately embraced music again, and began writing and playing in London. After some rigid performances at an open mic outing, she was discovered and signed by Los Angeles-based DKG Records. Her DKG release, Gold Coast, shimmers in its palette of colors, offering jazz, soul, and R&B.
Benson’s debut single, “Say How I Feel”, has recently been given hip-hop remix treatment with Slum Village and Dwele but the album version stands well on its own. She ventures sleepily through the first-time motions of “laying down game” on this one, as she is scoping out a very lucky young man across the room. The upward harmonies filter in, and her insecurity is a little comical here: “He’s coming towards me / At least I hope that’s the case / He’s smiling at me / My pulse starts to race.” It may sound a bit adolescent, this inward prodding about the opposite sex, but it’s never insincere. Rhian Benson, if anything, is completely devout to submitting exactly how she feels, braving embarrassment all the way through.
Adversely, Benson is “Invincible” on the album’s sixth track, when she is prepared to decline any unnecessary help from gentlemen callers. Bob Power takes production credit on this one, and applies his weathered Tribe Called Quest and D’Angelo experience to a commendable jazzy beat. Every studio associate is on-hand for “Invincible”; there are chimes, Fender Rhodes, some electric guitar, and a classy string arrangement looming in the background. She one-ups Pat Benatar’s first attempt at being “Invincible” and demands “I’m like the falling tide / You can’t rescue me / I will roll back at night / So just leave me be.” It’s thematically strong and reaches the same degree in chorus and melody. These strengths mirror Benson’s durable passion for songwriting; she knows just where she wants to go, and will have little trouble getting there.