Fathers & Sons (EP)
Local songwriter Ben Moats' father grew up in a small town in Nebraska, laid railroad ties for Union Pacific, served in Vietnam. He returned from the war, worked his way up the ladder at UP and retired a few years ago.
"It's not that he's led some super-rare type of life," says Moats, an English instructor at UMKC. "But I'd always wanted to do a concept album of some kind, and one day I got to thinking about how I know a lot about my dad, and he's had these interesting experiences. So I started writing songs that are about my interpretation of his life, based on things he's told me."
The result is Moats' Fathers & Sons (EP), seven acoustic ballads akin to the heavy-eyed work of Iron and Wine, Mark Kozelek and Nick Drake. This is bedtime music — fingerpicked guitars and light drums, with Moats' quavering, mournful vocals out front leading the way. On the opening track, "John Wayne," Moats sings, Don't call me a child, I'm John Wayne. It's a pretty melody and a solid lyric, though Moats' voice is so honey-thick, it took me about 15 spins to figure out what he was saying. ("It's about childhood innocence in a different time period," Moats says of the song.) "In the Night" edges closer, though not too terribly close, to something more pop, like a Pete Yorn B-side circa 2001.
This EP is a prelude to an LP. "On the full-length, there'll be a point where it transitions and becomes more about my life," Moats says. Has his father heard it? What does he think about an album about his life?
"It's strange, you know, I've never seen or heard him sing, but I've always thought that any music ability I have comes from him," Moats says. "I think he actually could sing if he wanted to. He did tell me earlier this year — I went on a little mini-tour through Oklahoma City, Nashville, some other cities, and he said he'd rather be walking point in Vietnam than do what I'm doing, playing music in front of strangers."