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Tom Brosseau

Posthumous Success

Rating: 2.5/5.0

Label: Fat Cat Records

If there’s ever going to be another folk revival, it definitely will not begin with Tom Brosseau. Folk has all but entered the pantheon of American mythology and it’s impossible not to hold the new stuff up against the guys who set the standard. If you want to compare Brosseau to Pete Seeger or Woody Guthrie, he doesn’t stand a chance.

And let’s be honest: it doesn’t take a Berkeley graduate to come up with a folk song. Whether it’s Willie Nelson or Bob Dylan, no one is under the impression that these guys are great guitarists. By definition, the music is almost supposed to take a backseat to the song’s actual message. Therein lays the tragedy of Posthumous Success. From the bouncy guitar riff of opener “Favorite Color Blue” to the druggy guitar wander of “Youth Decay,” Brosseau’s guitar performances are better than just about any one of his contemporaries. He is not content to strum the same open chords for four minutes; instead, he adds a great deal of variation in his compositions, often picking out a melody and then retooling it for the rest of the song. From the first track and nearly to the end, Brosseau is constantly trying to get the maximum amount of texture from his guitar and his occasional back-up band.

Unfortunately his lyrics are awful. The whole album plays like he spent a ton of time on the music and then an afternoon on the lyrics. There are no story songs and few memorable observations, leaving the listener to pretend that there is meaning in line after line of forced rhymes. Really I could pull any verse from any song as an example, but to limit it one we’ll go with the first two lines of “Wishbone Medallion”: “I don’t have to go too far back to feel the strain/ Funny after all this time there’s still water on my brain.” On the bright side, any Arlo Guthrie fan will find deep meaning in this stuff.

Thankfully branching out from the limits of authentic folk, Brosseau experiments a great deal with the album’s production. In “Be True” Brosseau sets up an intro that sounds straight from Kid A, only to let it transition into a friendly shuffle. The change is completely unpredictable but somehow comes off as natural. Most impressive is the percussion in “You Don’t Know My Friends,” where the cymbals are recorded with such low fidelity that there’s a constant static fuzz in the background. The minimalist production fits with the songs perfectly, which is why a radio remix of “Favorite Color Blue” tagged onto the end of the album is the biggest slap in the face to any faithful fans doing their damnedest to support the endangered folk movement.

At the heart of Posthumous Success is a good album. Brosseau’s voice is fittingly pleasant and occasionally dramatic, while the music is often engaging enough to distract the listener from the thoughtlessness of the lyrics. If this wasn’t folk music, it would almost be forgivable how often Brosseau sacrifices message for melody, but as a veteran of the genre he is well-aware of how imperative it is that he mans both fronts. Posthumous Success works best on instrumental tracks like “Boothill,” where Brosseau shuts the hell up and lets the music say what the listener really wants to hear.

by Brian Loeper

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