Brett Dennen is one of those artists who frustrate record store employees everywhere, such is the impossibility of categorizing his music. One can put him in the same category as Rufus Wainwright or Ron Sexsmith, but, in fact, his music is so varied, so much a smorgasbord of everything, that it breaks free of the singer-songwriter label. His new record, So Much More is a confused mix of pop, rock, folk, country, and world music. And it’s downright stunning how good it is at times.
The first track is “Ain’t No Reason”, an explication on the existential crisis of modern living of sorts. Lines such as “There ain’t no reason things are this way / It’s how they’ve always been and they intend to stay” and “Love will come set me free / I do believe” hit just the right mix, not too obtuse as to take out the meaning behind the words, yet subtle enough to convey those emotions without melodrama.
The song that follows, “There Is So Much More” is the first single, and has already hit radio. It has a slow, folk feel that contrasts with the pop qualities of the first track. The song’s slow build and patience allows Dennen’s voice to take over. And what a voice it is — high and slightly feminine, yet anything but slight. It’s gorgeous, and you only need to hear the first few bars of the first track, when the voice kicks in with only a quiet guitar backing it, to feel just how good it is.
On “Because You Are a Woman”, Dennen expresses longing and love in the most soulful track of the album. His voice is the album’s best instrument, and he wrenches the powerful emotions from it on this track. The last track, “Someday”, and the third track, “Darlin’ Do Not Fear”, are slices of pop heaven, bouncing with hope. And while Demmen’s voice is the most distinguishing feature, the instrumental backings on “When You Feel It” and “The One Who Love You the Most”, with its blend of folk and jazz, are solid throughout.
The whole show — the album cover with Dennen, in his floppy hair and white collared shirt, looking down in melancholy; the undeniably powerful yet feminine voice; the world-weariness combined with hope — creates a sense of excitement that bursts out from the stereo. This doesn’t mean that we’ll remember Dennen 50 years from now, much less next month. But this artist has that quality, that undefined yet recognizable quality of someone who is special, someone who ought to be remembered. It almost seems like myth, an artist so new and so mature and an album of a dozen great songs that seems effortlessly put together, yet Brett Dennen and So Much More are here, coming to a record store near you. This fall he will open a tour headlined by John Mayer and Sheryl Crow. Something tells me while people are waiting for the more high profile acts, they’ll accidentally stumble onto this guy. And something tells me some of these people will never forget it.