Benny Bleu's 'March of the Mollusk' is a clawhammer banjo zen session 

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As both a geologist and an accomplished folk musician, Ben Haravitch has long melded his love for the natural world and music by distilling insightful observations about the living things around us — animal and otherwise — through charming, acoustic-based songs. Under the moniker Benny Bleu, Haravitch’s solo albums “Warm Prickly” from 2019 and “Swatting the Flies” from 2021 featured a mix of traditional folk, country, and Cajun standards and original tunes — all with the musician’s pleasant, everyman voice.

But on the newest Benny Bleu collection out Feb. 24, playfully titled “March of the Mollusk,” Haravitch scaled back, eschewing folk instruments he’s used in the past and choosing instead to highlight the banjo — his primary instrument — and eliminate vocals altogether.

The net effect of these musical choices is both calming and uplifting; a combination of solitude and joy permeates each track. Haravitch is a proponent of the “old time” style of banjo playing, also known as clawhammer banjo, in which the thumb claws at the drone string on the offbeat.

This clawhammer technique enables Haravitch to create a gentle but insistent chugging rhythm that provides a perpetual sense of forward momentum, but with a relaxed or midtempo feel. It’s the inherent paradox: the “March of the Mollusk.” In this case, slow and steady wins enlightenment.

“In reverence of snails and other gastropods, and the pace at which they savor this world, I humbly offer this collection of tunes played at rather gentle tempos and with as little friction as possible,” Haravitch writes in the liner notes.

There isn’t a dud in the bunch, which is best heard in one, continuous zen session. That said, the single “Lost Goose” and “Jordan Am a Hard Road/Folding Down the Sheets” feature beautiful circular melodies and rhythms reminiscent of Celtic reels, and “Edward Chops a Tree Down” is straight-up hypnotic. The songs may sound simple and effortless, but Haravitch’s technical proficiency is undeniable.

Benny Bleu will play the songs from "March of the Mollusk" via a free livestream from Bernunzio Uptown Music on Friday, Feb. 24, at 7 p.m.

Daniel J. Kushner is CITY’s arts editor. He can be reached at [email protected].
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