Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Reviews:: Tom Brosseau Posthumous Success

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It’s no secret I’m a pretty big fan of Tom Brosseau. Grand Forks made out Best-of ’07 list, and the follow up – Cavalier - was pretty spot on (and the Black Sparrow Press style cover art warmed my literary heart). So when I first heard that Brosseau was set to release a new record, I was using all my blogger cred (ie – begging) to get a review copy from the good folks at Fat Cat.

Not surprisingly, the Brosseau chatter across the music blogs has been pretty limited about this release and I’d expect it to stay that way. Tom, while incredibly talented, hits home with a very specific (and small) audience. Relying on gentle picked notes and detailed emotions that oppose volume, he's the type of artist that is best played alone or consumed by a tiny room of appreciative fans.

It’s been almost two years since new material has surfaced, so I was pretty happy when the first soft picked notes started Favourite Colour Blue, assuming I was getting ready for another record full of muted admissions from the terrific wordsmith. Instead, Posthumous Success shows Brosseau experimenting with bold arrangements - drums, jangled electric guitar, bass – largely ignoring his classical acoustic recording style and often letting his instrument of choice settle into the background.

Harmonies, drums and a catchy picked electric jump start Been True, but it’s Big Time where you really see the transformation Brosseau undergoes on this record. The song opens with his trusty acoustic and vocals, but explodes with drums, heavy plucked bass and an ever-present drone. He even adds a surging, sing-along chorus to the equation. I have to admit it shocked me and for the rest of the record I was left on unsteady footing. Even a song like Wishbone Medallion (that would normally fit into his traditional wheelhouse) is infused with a big bass line and some warbled sound effects.

To be honest, there are so many new sides of Brosseau introduced on Posthumous Success that at times I found myself getting a bit lost.

Even with a relatively straight forward combination of sounds, like the warm fuzz and fiddle that are paired with his acoustic and mouth harp on Boothill, I wasn’t sure if another eruption was on the horizon. Chandler is a simple electric guitar instrumental, one that Tom lets notes echo in the vast emptiness. New Heights uses bended synth notes and drums to push his guitar and vocals along and the hand claps and Paul Simon rhythm of Axe & Stump is equally jarring. You Don't Know My Friends is one of the angriest Brosseau songs I can remember, as the muffled sounds and fuzz add intensity to the track and his quicker cadence gives a bit of bite to lines like, “I’m still going to the dance, but I’m going stag. I don’t mind if any of you think I’m a fag.”

While you might think I am dismissing this record, that couldn't be farther from the truth. No, this isn’t the Tom Brosseau I’m used to, but by no means is it one I’m looking to ignore. He’s still an engaging songwriter, and with each listen I settle into more and more songs and start to unearth the little moments that drew me to Brosseau in the first place. Only now those moments are supplanted with melodies and infectious hooks. Already, I'm leaving the record on repeat and I imagine it's only going to become harder to turn it off the more familiar I get with his new styles.

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Posted at 8:30 AM by ack :: 2 comments

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