Tom Brosseau’s seventh studio release (his fourth in two years) wanders through songs of love, loss, and joy, graciously refraining from making a spectacle of these common experiences. Cavalier ambles around and peeks in without any sense of urgency, taking time to say it plainly and properly. Like the rest of the Brosseau canon, this album stakes a claim in a quiet place of its own while never straying too far from his acutely penetrating folk style.
Produced by PJ Harvey/Sparklehorse collaborator John Parish, Cavalier ushers in a roster similar to 2006’s self-titled release and January’s Grand Forks, but here songs are stripped of everything but bare-bones accompaniment and Brosseau’s careful guitar picking. Opening with “Amory,” based on a character from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise, he sings: “May your hair always be auburn/ May your eyes always be green/ May you rise each time you fall/ Only doubt the hand/ That don’t come with a glove/ Amory.” Seamless and soft, Brosseau’s proselike imagery blurs the line between his real life story and the more lyrical elements of songwriting — a line arguably more recognizable on records like Grand Forks, North Dakota, and Tom Brosseau, all loosely based on his life experiences and full of region-specific details.
“Committed to Memory” breaches familiar tones, with lo-fi layers of muted drums and slide guitar, but it emits a youthful, playful nature all too absent from the plaintive, meandering qualities of his catalog. Elsewhere, “My Peggy Dear” recalls John Prine’s crisp picking on slippery steel strings, and “I Want to Make This Moment Last” plays in slow motion, projecting a simplicity and intensity of emotion: “Standing in all the excitement/ I can feel my spirits lifted/ Tops pop off bottles of champagne/ You shield your face from confetti/ Take my hand/ Take my hand/ I want to make this moment last.”
This perhaps best illustrates what makes Cavalier so markedly intimate, and true to its name. Brosseau’s history and lifestyle — the deeply rooted neo-folkie from North Dakota — is a defining part of his success. Cavalier puts a good portion of the back story on the shelf, enabling Brosseau to fully exercise his talents as an active, spontaneous creator, both lyrically and as a songwriter. Exploring diverse subject matter and predominantly sparse arrangements — with a good amount of guidance from Parish — Brosseau continues to project a sound full of purpose and meaning.
But Cavalier is not an entirely new side of Brosseau; it’s simply a different, uncovered facet. A little bit of the old with the new. Nothing in his tone or his pace assumes too much, all the while exuding a forthcoming warmth and authenticity. Like a wave rolling in from a limitless sea, Cavalier is easily taken in.