It’s not easy to get attention in a world crowded with talented musicians. While some like Devendra Banhart and Sufjan Stevens combine talent with luck and manage to accrue column upon column of media coverage, others like Brandon Schott go relatively unnoticed.
After graduating Berklee College of Music in 1999 with a degree in songwriting, Brandon Schott headed out to Los Angeles to continue a lifelong obsession with music. He started playing local coffeehouses, assembling a trio with Greg Jamrok on guitar and Dave Stalker on drums. Soon enough, they were fleshing out arrangements for what would become his first album, Release.
While this album debuted in November of 2003, it was more recently picked up for wider distribution in the summer of 2005 (and deservedly so). The multi-talented Schott (he is credited with some 20 different instruments on the CD) covers a wide realm of pleasant soft-rock territory (with some folk, some funk and a few other things thrown in for good measure).
He’s got a strong emotive voice that can sound like any number of people (a short list might include Owsley, Ben Folds, Michael Penn, Joe Pernice and Matthew Sweet), depending on the particular song. It’s full of a warmth and familiarity that adds to these original songs.
“Sunday A.M.” opens the CD, a soft acoustic number that reflects the lyrical wishes for a world where every day retains the gentle peace of Sunday morning. Schott’s dulcet voice carries the track, which features some virtuoso dobro work from David Kalish.
A slightly more upbeat ballad, “Afterglow” is an infectious musical testament to the reaches of feminine power, extending so far as to let the playboy know “it’s far too late for an easy escape”. In the end, the results are always the same: “no matter where you are, / She holds all the cards”.
Schott gets the funk out in “Little Juliet”, using a Moog, bass and clavinet to underscore the full-fledged strings, wah-wah guitar and background singers. It’s a tight little number that shows Schott’s versatility through the act of giving advice to that poor girl who has lost her Romeo:
“Little Juliet, /
Look how much you’ve lost, /
Since your stars got crossed, /
You are putting out, /
What you never put in, /
The poison crawls under your skin.”
“One Man’s Poison” points out that we often follow the wrong advice by falling in line or admiring the actions of the wrong friends. Banjo and mandolin are some of the unusual accents that dress up “May”, a mood piece and love ballad that unfurls at a slow pace (and lasts just under six minutes).
Schott goes a little jazzier with “Paper Wings”, employing a nice background chorus of singers and the occasional slide whistle to get across this delicate tale of a woman remembered through her origami letter:
“Her memory is folded, /
Her edges are soft, /
And when she finds you, /
You’re an astronaut, /
Every night you’re really taking flight.”
“Burning The Days” is Schott at his most rocking. The song builds to the point where Schott screams out his love and devotion (“I will burn for you as the night goes down”) in sometimes poetic ways (“I live inside your secret kiss, / Here in this power time does not exist”).
Lovely strings add poignancy to the “man left in ruins” aspect of “Let Me Sleep”. He’s awake and thinking back on “the silence she left behind”. Schott’s plaintive voice cries out with emotion, but the real heroes here are Stephen Erdody on cello, Endre Granat and Christine Frank on violin, and Janet Lakatos on viola.
Schott often toys with philosophic concepts. He does so in the ballad “Still Life”, pondering a static, unchanging life that is passing him by. Yet it has a hopeful, optimistic end:
“I’ve always been afraid of changing, /
My habits move me beyond repair, /
But I hold on, /
‘Cause I know that somewhere there’s still . . . life.”
The closer “Feels Like Home” is another mellow acoustic gem. Brooke Fox adds some winning background harmonies. Schott recounts “blessings” he should have known while pondering the absurdity of life and its nasty whispers, finding ultimate comfort in his situation:
“Standing on this endless coast, /
I raise my glass and drink a toast, /
To rolling out my lover’s ghost, /
Crashing towards a future I may never know, /
But it feels like home, feels like home, /
Here beside the turning tide, /
It feels like home.”
Schott’s impressive debut displays much promise. His lyrics are poetic enough to stand out, and his smart attitudes and musical choices make for an always-interesting listen. While some of the ballads may go on too long, Release still has enough moments of greatness to make you eager to hear the next collection from this talented musician, one that his website claims will be out sometime later this year.