There are elements of Benjamin Booker’s new song “Witness” that make it sound like it’s from a bygone era. It doesn’t even really have anything to do with soul luminary Mavis Staples lending her stately vocals to the tune. The spirited communal vocals sound like they could’ve been beamed in from a 1960s church gathering. Booker’s little funkified guitar lines might be welcome in James Brown’s work. Those steady handclaps, in a darker era, wouldn’t sound out of place on a chain gang. That’s how almost primordial “Witness” can sound.
But Booker’s message is one that only truly makes sense in our present time. In “Witness,” Booker is speaking truth to his own experience as a black man with real fear living in a country where some people have a false fear of him. “We thought that we saw that he had a gun,” goes one stark line in the song. It’s a totally conditional statement but one whose consequences are far more permanent. For Booker, one wrong move could mean the end. And then all he can hope for is that someone is a witness for him.
Booker’s album Witness is out June 2 on ATO Records and is now available for preorder. Find the album’s title track, tracklist and cover art below, plus Paste Cloud audio from Booker’s 2014 Daytrotter Session. Booker also penned a moving statement here about “Witness” and how events such as the Trayvon Martin shooting shook him awake—find that here. He’ll be touring extensively behind the new album—keep an eye out for those dates in the near future.
01. Right On You
03. Witness (feat. Mavis Staples)
04. The Slow Drag Under
05. Truth Is Heavy
08. Off The Ground
10. All Was Well
Witness Album Art: