Stephen Bruton has worn a lot of hats — singer, songwriter, producer, guitarist — over the course of his nearly 30-year career. His newest hat (and I swear this isn’t a cheap shot) is “dadrock artist”. Maybe it’s because, at 55, Bruton could be my father, but his latest release, From the Five, has a decidedly paternal vibe. Alright fine, “dadrock” isn’t an according-to-Hoyle genre, but you know it when you hear it, and Bruton definitely traffics in it. Really, it’s a genre about growing old gracefully.
When you’ve been around for as long as Bruton has, you’ve made some friends, and many lend a hand on From the Five. Tom Petty’s drummer Steve Ferrone mans the kit, Little Feat’s Bill Payne plays keyboard and Texas buddies Stephen Barber (also keyboards), Randy Jacobs (guitar), Glen Clark (harmonica), Lon Price (horns) and producer Ross Hogarth all help Bruton give his album a friendly, lived-in feel.
So now you know who plays what on the album; back to this “dadrock” notion. Dadrockers like Bruton and his aforementioned cohorts still love to kick out the jams, as evidence by the blues licks on From the Five‘s opening track, “Bigger Wheel” and the barrelhouse piano on the rollicking “Ordinary Man”. But a lot of From the Five‘s tunes are quiet, introspective numbers, where an aging Bruton, entering (if not his autumn years) his late-summer years, looks back on his life.
On the lush, jazzy “Fading Man”, Bruton notes “there’s less of my future / And more of my past” like a man who has lived a full life and isn’t afraid to grow old. Similarly, on “Every Once In a While”, he realizes that “I see the man I used to be”. With the frequent hints of jazz and spells of introspection, Bruton resembles Tom Waits, had the latter stuck with his boho piano balladeer incarnation. And like Waits’ early albums, you can’t headbang to From the Five, but you can tap your toes to it, and isn’t that all the exercise that dadrock needs to provide?
Like any good father, Bruton keeps up on current events. He worries about our nation’s “oblivious to oblivion” attitude and bread-and-circuses mentality on the urgent (for him) “The Clock” and grapples with his spirituality on “Bigger Wheel” (a metaphor for the deity of your choice), one of the album’s standout cuts, and elsewhere suggests that those seeing answers on life’s journey should “Walk by Faith”. It should be noted that said walking is best done when accompanied by a bouncy/funky piano line. Bruton, to his credit, offers insight into his personal experiences with spirituality without the need to preach. It’s reassuring to hear him sing about feeling connected to something bigger than he is. Call it the wisdom of dadrock.
Will 20-somethings want to hear what Bruton, a guy who’s been around the block a few times, has to say? Probably not, but have I mentioned that the album would be perfect for those 20-somethings’ fathers? I believe I may have. Even though Father’s Day was over a month ago, it doesn’t mean you can’t go out and get your dad this album. I’m giving this album a five rating, but that’s to balance out a six for dads and a four for everyone else.