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Whether it was the result of fate or serendipity won’t ever be clear, but it was a fortunate thing for Ben Sharkey that he knocked over a pile of his roommate’s CDs as he cleaned his apartment. A specific one stood out among the pile, that the then high schooler had never seen before.
“(It) was Harry Connick Jr. and I was just drawn in by the cover of ‘Blue Light, Red Light,'” Sharkey said. “It just looked cool. He was just wearing a T-shirt, the way he was posed was like The Thinker, the famous sculpture. I just popped it in and instantly it was this big band kind of thing and he had so much energy. His vocals were awesome, and I liked the stories that were being told.”
Today, Sharkey is a Detroit-based artist who specializes in his own brand of jazz and swing. He will celebrate the release of his Aug. 2018 album “Mercury Rising” with an album release concert on Sept. 13 in Midtown. And though finding a CD one evening wasn’t the sole reason he was moved to become an artist in his own right, it was a pivotal moment in the development of Sharkey’s style.
“That’s what kind of pulled it together for me. I think what also grabbed me was that I was never aggressively masculine, and I’ve never had any male role model that I really felt I could identify with. (But) with the jazz crooners, I identified with them,” He said. “That also was a piece of the puzzle that came into place, listening to Harry Connick Jr.”
And “Mercury Rising” seems to be yet another puzzle piece for Sharkey — but one in a different vein. In many ways, the latest album differs in style from Sharkey’s previous record “Day Into Night,” and the content of his 11-year-old YouTube channel that garnered much of his original audience. However, Sharkey said that longtime fans shouldn’t worry about the musical shift.
“My influences aren’t just jazz. I love listening to Latin music, to house music, I love dance, I love pop — all that kind of stuff. That combined with me being a performer and being hired for a lot of gigs where I’m expected to make people dance, I wanted to write an album that encompasses everything I am into, but also being true to my main roots which is jazz and swing,” Sharkey said. “So, a lot of the tunes at the beginning have those elements, with the big band and the horns and everything. It’s like a really retro sound, but also it’s upbeat and danceable and I’ve got some modern influences in there as well. I wanted it to be kind of a crossover thing that a lot of people will enjoy, not just a specific niche genre.”
Sharkey said that he is also proud of the unique storyline that went into his album, one that is best experienced by listening to the tracks from start to finish — not unlike the chapters of a book.
“If you look at the cover, it’s meant to be a book cover, like a romance novel or something like that. There’s a story about it. The woman that’s behind me is ‘Black Widow,'” Sharkey said, referring to the album’s first track. “I wanted it to be kind of like a book, where it starts with the development of a character in the beginning, then there’s tension and conflict and resolution and everything that we’re taught about how stories go, and then a happy ending with (the last track) ‘Sparks.'”
Sharkey, who is openly gay, said that there’s another aspect to the album’s story that makes it inclusive, too: the intentional use of the pronoun “you.”
“It’s influenced by different things in my life, but what I am conscious about as a gay man, is I don’t like to have a lot of pronouns in my songs,” he said. “So, whenever I write my songs it’s usually, ‘You.’ I’m usually about ‘you and I’ not about ‘she’ or ‘he’ and that kind of stuff. It’s open for interpretation because I have fans that are both genders. And if a man wants to listen to it and wants to think that I’m singing about him, or if a woman wants to listen to it and think it’s (for her), it’s a form of art and it’s open to interpretation by the listener. That’s what my main job is, to entertain.”
And soon, hopefully for Sharkey’s fans, he intends on setting up a few tour dates to showcase “Mercury Rising.”
“I’m kind of putting the puzzle pieces into place for that. I’m talking with tour managers and booking agents for that,” Sharkey said. “Nothing is set in stone yet, but I’m hoping that that’s going to happen. So, it’ll probably be early next year in the spring or summer. These things can take time to organize and orchestrate.”
The “Mercury Rising” album release concert will be held on Sept. 13 at The Garden Theatre at 3919 Woodward Ave., in Detroit. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $30. More information can be found online at BenSharkey.com.