I know what you’re thinking because I was thinking it too. Not another effing folk singer. Oh, does he sing with the hint of a drawl? Did his grandma teach him how to play a guitar he bought at the five and dime? Does he take the city bus and play concerts at old folks homes and not understand the internets? Super.
I came to Tom Brosseau’s music with the kind of bias that’s come hand in hand with the application of the “folk” label to any creative endeavor not likely to turn a profit. I’ve also slept with a good number of folk musicians, and I’ve seen how little making music typically draws them to the stage. In summary, fractured egos and yearning for the good ol’ days doesn’t do it for me anymore.
Just as I’ve settled comfortably into my prejudice, Mr. Tom Brosseau goes and does that thing which I can only describe as Emily Dickinson once did: “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” Opting for the Little Room at the Largo, Brosseau releases his tenth record as if he were having some friends over to sing a few songs, something he clearly does often in this room, with Flanagan the owner heckling from the back, and everyone in the audience with three or four drinks in front of them, so they won’t have to disturb anyone by making repeat trips to the bar. It’s also the first show I’ve seen in a while with my own eyes and ears, and not through the kaleidoscope of smart phone screens and audio trickery. This is a place where Brosseau and his collaborators do real work to write good songs and play them well. It’s easy to pay attention.
“Grass Punks” is a slight record, 9 songs in just under 25 minutes, but it’s not without heft. Brosseau’s voice takes some getting used to, it’s a little nasal and effeminate but perfectly in tune, so when he hits those off notes in the scale, and takes the songs somewhere a little stranger, a little darker, you feel the pleasure in it. The lyrics are subtle and funny, you think maybe North Dakota might not be such a terrible place, or LA for that matter. You wonder what malted milk tastes like. If a metal bullhorn is a suitable gift for a lover.
Do yourself a favour and get to one of these shows while he’s on tour. You’re guaranteed an evening of beautiful songs with the manners to match them. So leave your folk fatigue and your device at the door.
Words from the very lovely Lauren Cole Norton