Brett Dennen – So Much More (2006)
purchase this album (Amazon)
Does Dualtone ever release a bad album?
Seriously. If you aren’t sampling the label’s wares on at least a semi-regular basis, you need to start now — they’ve got Guy Clark, Bobby Bare, Darden Smith and Radney Foster on the roster. And oh, did I mention Warren Zanes and Mary Karlzen? If you’re into Austin-flavored rock & roll, Dualtone is your ticket to bliss.
New member of the family Brett Dennen isn’t quite up there with the names I just rattled off, but his Dualtone debut, So Much More, is well worth hearing nonetheless.
It’s worth saying right off the bat that Dennen doesn’t really sound like any of those artists. His high, creaky vocals and folky, jazz-tinged arrangements carry hints of artists both new (Damien Rice, David Gray), not as new (Tracy Chapman) and old (Jimmy Scott, believe it or not). On paper, it looks vaguely absurd, but in practice, it’s a cohesive, well-crafted collection of songs.
If the set has a problem, it’s that albums this resolutely intimate need heaping helpings of emotional resonance to make up for the lack of a musical dynamic, and Dennen isn’t quite there yet. When he does shift his gaze outward, like on “I Asked When,” his reach exceeds his grasp; he aims for a Dylanesque rant, but hasn’t acquired the depth or command to pull it off. That being said, the track is not altogether unlike “Thin Blue Flame,” from Josh Ritter’s The Animal Years, so if that song knocked you out, Dennen’s soapboxing will likely do the same.
Either way, for the time being, Dennen’s real strength lies in the retelling of seemingly small details. The album’s best songs, like “She’s Mine” (download) and “So Long Sweet Misery” (download), are easy like Sunday morning. Check them out.