Benjy Ferree never stopped writing. He just slowed down.
That’s how the songwriter explains his recent absence from music. The last time the rootsy singer released a full-length album — Come Back to the Five and Dime Bobby Dee Bobby Dee, in 2009 — he had a deal with prominent indie label Domino Records. That’s done now. But Ferree never closed the book on music. April 17, he unveils a new LP whose title might offer a glimpse into his psyche of late. It’s called Cry-Fi.
“I went into survival mode when I made the record,” says Ferree in a phone call. He’s cagey about why, but he offers hints: He’d divorced his wife. Badly wounded, he needed to perform open-heart surgery on himself. So after 14 years in D.C., Ferree moved to New Orleans to heal. That’s when new songs began to spill out of him.
“I figured, might as well do something crazy like make a record when you’re trying to survive,” says Ferree, 41. “If I’m gonna die, I’d rather die singing.”
He sings a lot — and sings well — on Cry-Fi, which trades his Americana sound for the R&B and pop stylings he explored on his 2012 two-songer. But over the album’s 10 tracks, Ferree doesn’t sound like he’s dying. He sounds like a survivor.
He describes his return from the brink on “I’m A New Man,” the album’s first single.
“I woke up that morning, I wrote the song. I wrote it pretty fast,” Ferree says, “and I needed to do it. I didn’t know why.”
Ferree returned to the D.C. area to record Cry-Fi with Ben Green at Studio V in Reston, Virginia. Then to shoot a video for “I’m A New Man” (watch it above), he chose another local spot: Showtime, the downhome bar in Northwest D.C. where he once worked.
Showtime’s owner, Paul Vivari, shows up behind a keyboard in the video, a DIY affair that takes cues from old film of Mexican narcocorrido singer Chalino Sánchez. (Vivari is releasing Cry-Fi on his new label, Trick Bag Records.) The rest of Ferree’s ensemble — most of whom don’t play on the album — includes rock drummer Mark Cisneros, plus Alice “Granny” Donahue and Richard Lynch, two members of Showtime house band Granny and the Boys.
Ferree also plans to return to D.C. to play a release show April 23 at Comet Ping Pong. But he doesn’t sound ready to come back for good. He’s got more recuperating to do.
“I’m trying to age gracefully, you know?” Ferree says. “My doctor, meaning me, or life, or whatever, told me, ‘Get down to New Orleans because it’s better for your heart.'”
Benjy Ferree plays an album release show April 17 at Saturn Bar in New Orleans and April 23 at Comet Ping Pong in D.C.
The original version of this article inaccurately said Mark Cisneros did not perform on Benjy Ferree’s Cry-Fi album. He plays horns and drums.