Very few things in music remain timeless. Musical movements dictate the styles and attitudes of generations. Fads come and go, and ultimately when we look back we’re only left questioning past discretion. This can rarely be said for singer-songwriters. Sure, Christopher Guest gave the folk world a funny demeanor in A Mighty Wind, but current singer-songwriters such as Devendra Bernhardt, Sufjan Stevens and Tom Brosseau have found a way to resurrect the soul of simple music. And they’re creating something timeless.
On his debut, What I Mean to Say Is Goodbye, Brosseau finds beauty in simplicity and storytelling. This collection of a dozen guitar-picked tracks displays a warm sound that finds its perfect companion in Brosseau’s soft, subtle voice. His style of singing and charming vocal cracks evokes Woody Guthrie and Nick Drake, but his true power rests in his songwriting. Covering love, longing and death, each lyric is so poetically crafted that it’s difficult to do anything but chew gum while listening. On “Tonight I Am Careful With You,” Brosseau sketches the actions of romantic insecurities: “I know a way to end the calm/ I just don’t wanna forget it done/ something says I’ll have the time to do that later on.”
Brosseau is a North Dakota native, but he’s been calling Los Angeles home for the last few years. He can often be found on stage at Largo, one of L.A.’s best-kept secrets, and it’s this slow buzz that keeps his name growing. With production by Sam Jones, director of the Wilco documentary, the music on What I Mean to Say Is Goodbye creates a delicate backdrop to Brosseau’s vocals, which own the album.
There’s little diversity between each track’s style and structure — the music only varies from piano or violin accompaniments with his simple folk guitar plucking and rarely change tempo — but What I Mean Is to Say Goodbye is a solid step for Brosseau. His style is far enough away from the current indie-folk scene and his songwriting should stand the test of time. I hope we don’t have to wait long for this album’s follow-up.