Here’s another reason to be more than content with the amount of talent available in our local Minneapolis/St. Paul scene.
I first learned about Brynn Andre through grapevines of other local music blogs I follow, and I immediately noticed her talent upon listening to her 2-song Valentine’s Day single. When she opens her mouth, she doesn’t just sing. She makes you feel something.
And that something is heartache. What she and I must have in common is that we’re suckers for sad songs — not just bummer songs, but more like, I want something and I ain’t gettin it, and look at the mess we made while we’re tryin’.
It takes two for the music to click — the performer and the listener has to share the feeling. No virtuoso can give you a feeling s/he doesn’t have. But it’s safe to say that if you have any emotional sensibility at all, you’d be familiar with this longing, this feeling-unresolved-and-being-not-quite-where-you-want-to-be feeling. Brynn pulls off an oft-aimed but rarely achieved balance of being distinctly personal and universal at the same time.
That’s not to say that her self-titled album is a collection of funeral dirges. Neither slow nor whiny, it’s a well-assembled collection that is both excellently consistent and varied at the same time, which is another tricky balancing act. Quite a few of the songs have a brazen momentum to it, and you can’t help notice that her naked voice has something in common with the best of country balladers. The fact that the album was produced by Neilson Hubbard, who apparently is a Nashville vet, may have something to do with it. No, it’s not a country album, but it has this quality that I wish country had, and could have: plaintive, unadorned honesty. I very much admire the fact that Brynn doesn’t hold back — you get the sense that you’re looking at her dirty laundry, a wish-I-hadn’t-seen-it personal side, but her open brokenness makes you want to hug her and confide in her that you, too, have skeletons in your closet.
Clocking in at around 40 minutes with 10 songs, the album’s on the concise side, which is actually part of its charm. The songs all seamlessly meld into one another, with the aforementioned heartache as the common thread, and the album feels tight and focused. The quality of songwriting is impressive throughout, making it hard to single out stand-outs. “Champagne” starts things out nicely with tension-ridden understatedness leading to a climactic chorus. “Fire Escape” features that almost-cringe-inducing confession about why we get into wrong relationships (oh we had chemistry but chemistry went bad/I came and I saw you, and you conquered me/I’ll say it, I’ll be honest I was just lonely) that sounds crude in writing yet in her voice you can’t help but admit its truthfulness. “Granite” tells of a road trip where she realized she wasn’t as strong as she wished, but its upbeat groove somehow makes it feel uplifting. The album slows down in its middle section but picks back up with “Shot Glass,” an unabashed rocker whose thinly veiled attempt at fun is really a rebound from a bad love. Then ending with an anthemic chorus of “Ocean,” a plea for transformation, leaving you with an affirming touch.
All this adds up to an album that I am going to enjoy for quite some time. It’s not without niggles but they are very minor. The vocals are appropriately unlayered for most part, which adds to the sense of intimacy and rawness. But when the producer Hubbard opens his mouth to sing some backups in a couple of songs, it feels like an intrusion into Brynn’s personal space, instead of adding depth to it. I’m not always an advocate of a single singer doing all vocal parts, but in this case that may have been what it calls for, given that vocal harmonies are sparse and the personal nature of the songs. And the mix is a bit heavy on drums and other instruments — they don’t obscure Brynn’s fine singing, but had her voice been placed the closest to the listener, instead of floating on top or behind her band, it would have further maximized the sense of personal connection to the artist. Again, I’m not always a fan of big-ego-singer-with-back-up-band mix, but in this case I think tipping a bit more in that direction would have been appropriate.
But those complaints are just the producer in me being nit-picky. Brynn Andre’s self-titled album is a real gem, and it’s just heartening to hear that such finely-crafted music can come out of a local indie artist. It’s hard to stand out of the crowd when you are just another white female singer/songwriter, but Brynn does in spades and makes it look easy, even if the life she sings about is anything but. If you’re like me and have a soft spot for sad-songs-with-groovy-momentum, then Brynn Andre will hit you hard, right where you want to be hit.