One of the first things I noticed about Tom Brosseau’s follow-up to 2014’s ‘Grass Punks’ is the sound.
Sure, all the usual elements are there: Tom’s high, clear voice and the spare arrangements. But together, Tom, producer John Parish (sometimes on organ) and the band assembled last year (David Butler on (two) drums, Joe Carvell on double bass, Ben Reynolds on (stratocaster) electric guitar) have recorded this new LP entirely live (in Bristol) and ‘Perfect Abandon’ always sounds just grand whatever its other faults.
Whether it’s in the bittersweet echo of the plaintively played lead guitars; the satisfying twitch and thud of the bass; or the especially electrifying brushed drum and tapped cymbal (check ‘My Sweetest Friend’ for best evidence) the sound is luscious. All from one mic’, with players moving and adjusting as tracks dictated. You can feel the commitment and the reciprocating focus rebounding off the band as they craft each number.
This must have been an amazing thing to witness – and will be, I am sure, on tour. Listening to the recording, however, there are too many occasions where the tunes are so relaxed, so loose-limbed that for all that the players must have loved playing them, there isn’t enough there to demand and hold my attention.
‘Empire Builder’ is the worst culprit, although the could-have-been-heart-breaking spirituals ‘The Wholesome Pillars’ and ‘Tell Me Lord’ also suffer from being too loose, too slight.
I like shaggy-dog story ‘Landlord Jackie’ with its deadly accurate tale of (male ?) fixation – part servility, part jealousy, part obsession, part lechery, part chivalry – and the (possibly ?) equally shaggy ‘Hardluck Boy’ (although I apologise unreservedly if this is true, because the abandonment is brutal and does stop my heart each time) with its crushing, broken resolution. But neither is destined to raise more than a wry smile or a brief electric shock of heartache from an occasional appearance on shuffle.
‘Roll On With Me’ is a lovely first single, however…
Thing is, man, I would love to have this band playing in my lounge for real, rather than hearing it on itunes…
Anyhow, the whole enterprise has to be seen in the shadow of the sad-eyed colossus that is ‘Take Fountain’. This is what you must listen to. Over and over and over. Repeat it, and repeat it, and repeat it, locked in the same beautiful maddening loop as its protagonist, doomed to endlessly rove this highway of shattered dreams. This is the song, if nothing else, to take with you.
Here, Brosseau is a drifting ghost, beginning his recurring journey down the shortcut for stars-to-be to the casting couch. This guy isn’t selling the fantasy – there’s no destination in mind, just the heartache of the journey, searching in vain.
He wants a drink from a “warm bar that serves Mezcal” but it won’t change anything, “wet or dry, bent or straight’, it’s all going to end up the same. Every joy is turned against him. And that’s where the anger, the rage come out; the menace, the desperation, the terror of that Strat chord progression; from behind all of that comes the truth.
Tom’s journey down this celebrity walk is a hollow trek. He won’t find who he wants on the way or at the end. Tom is questing forlornly for that lost love: “I wonder, my little star, if you are alright where you are ?”. But as he travels Tom is desperately hoping for chance to give him a shot: “I will think I will see your face, your voice, your breath, your style of hair, but it ain’t never you, there’s no-one there”. And then those Strat chords.
Our tale-teller knows that this is torture, even though he tries to dilute it through people-watching, observing the neighbourhoods, trying to jump bodies as he goes. There is no progression, no escape. “I’m living my life … and many others. How long ? A decade, maybe less, before there comes a shift in this mess.” And then the terrible end, the words, the Strat chords: “I’ve got nothing to do, I’ve got nothing in store, that’s all there is, there ain’t nothing more.”