Thursday, March 6, 2014

Come Meet Tom Brosseau: One, Two, Three Times

Close to a decade ago, I was working at my university’s radio station and got to host a small in-studio set with Tom Brosseau. Tom turned out to be one of the most pleasant musicians I’d ever meet; in our half hour together, I’d discover that he prefers coffee over tea, that he would kindly agree to photos as long as he wasn’t photographed alone, and that we shared a love of Camus. It also turned out that he speaks as softly and elegantly as he sings: an effeminate pitch with quiet delivery, old-fashioned and simple, no fake twang to match the “old time” quality of his persona. (More giddy details of that interaction here.) He's originally from North Dakota but has been based in Los Angeles for a while, and he's made his way here and there, particularly on the west side, most recently as part of John C. Reilly's troupe. This weekend he ventures to that great, isolated town in the north, Lompoc, as one of the earliest performances in a string of brief tours.

Brosseau was recently interviewed for a piece by Randall Roberts, and he nails a few ideas quite well; what makes a writer really good is the ability to appropriate words to feelings, and this in context, Brosseau is a really good writer. I write fiction in my spare time, and have never quite grasped why it is that it takes me four or five years to write a novel. But Brosseau gets it right off the bat: "It's not that I have a hard time coming up with lyrics or melodies. It's just this very special and sacred thing to me to be able to have my ears pricked by something that somebody says in humanity. And then for me to sit down and contemplate that takes a long time."

Back in 2007, I fell particularly in love with Brosseau's record Grand Forks, a concept album revolving around the 1997 Red River flood of his hometown. "Blue Part of the Windshield" had a waltz that got buried under Brosseau’s voice, praying quietly for the blue part of the windshield to "save me ‘til the day you’re through," until the drowning narrator witnessed the flood's drastic effects, two tracks later, punctuated by the slide guitar and deep bass of "Here Comes the Water Now." And then there was "Plaid-Lined Jacket," the story of a narrator lacking dignity, whose loneliness and ratty appearance were conveyed through simple recurring riffs in the song’s first verse, dirty comb and shoes held with silver tape, making way for a confident chorus, and then Brosseau announcing with renewed poise that despite his otherwise grimy appearance, "I keep my plaid-lined jacket clean." He not only applies language appropriately to emotion, but music to events and experience. He really is a fantastic writer. Now that that's been said, go have a listen at one of his shows, and be sure to say hello.

Fri., March 7: The Sanctuary, Santa Monica, CA
235 Hill St
Doors: 7:00pm

Sat., March 8: House Concert, Lompoc, CA
213 North Street
Doors: 8:00pm
Dinner Show

Mon., March 10: Bootleg Theater, Los Angeles, CA
2220 Beverly Blvd.
Doors: 8:00pm

Additional dates, including those for SXSW and Europe, can be found on his site. Go purchase his newest record, Grass Punks.

"Today is a Bright New Day" (thanks, NPR!)

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