By Jim Schutze
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Lake Highland resident Annie Benjamin is hard to miss. With her fiery red hair and tirelessly animated personality, Benjamin has been a fixture of the local music scene for more than two decades, writing and performing her brand of urban folk while championing a variety of causes. Some Kind of Wonder, Benjamin's just released sophomore effort, is a charming and chiming collection of '60s pop-rock that consolidates her many days and nights spent playing coffee houses and elementary schools.
"I've played solo for so many years," says Benjamin. "I have always loved the intimacy of being a solo artist, and it's also been a good way for me to be involved with the activism and social causes I deeply believe in."
After studying music at SMU and abandoning a career as a classical flautist, Benjamin picked up the guitar in her 20s and began attracting attention at the Kerrville Folk Festival, even having her song "Mudflap Girl" featured on National Public Radio's Car Talk. It wasn't until 2001, however, that she finally issued her debut, Life's Blessings.
As a working mom with two boys, Benjamin had to find time between shows at the Bath House Cultural Center and the Dallas Museum of Art to record her tales of relationships, both personal and political. Mixing elements of jazz, gospel and country, songs such as "Surface of the Moon," "Cold Wind in Amarillo" and "Dream I Call You" are insightful Americana narratives, full of optimism but still laced with an urgent sense of activism. It is exactly this dichotomy, this mix of sweet and sour that helps elevate Benjamin's tunes above the standard singer-songwriter sentimentality.
As much as Benjamin loves playing solo, she has also found time to form a band called Rocket Girl. "I wanted to be able to have more of an electric rocking sound while playing live," says Benjamin. "Having a band has really freed me up onstage."
Rocket Girl includes Jon and Jeff Wallace along with drummer April Samuels. The band's jangling, propulsive interplay allows Benjamin to find a stage presence that better suits her caffeine-addled personality. Jittery and wide-eyed, the talkative Benjamin pours out ideas and opinions as if she's been informed that there's a time limit.
"It's wonderful to be able to have more layers and ideas happening in the music," says Benjamin. "Fronting a rock band is a big departure to me, a new adventure."
While her solo material is consistently strong, the addition of a rhythm section does nothing but add more power to Benjamin's literate songs.
"I'm finding that I'm writing songs that have a more open framework," says Benjamin. "I'm also writing a lot more upbeat, rocking tunes."