Run your finger across these songs and you’re likely to pick up a few splinters. A one room, one microphone recording with no overdubs by John Parish (Sparklehorse, PJ Harvey), the music on Tom Brosseau’s Perfect Abandon is redolent of dust bowl ballads or early Sun sides, dynamics captured through careful placement of the instruments and a natural reverb. Brosseau deliberately reached for a live sound and the feel is one of recently finished demos cut on a four track, all the musicians huddled around within touching distance and leaning in to the mic. The result is a sound very much in the front of your speakers. Songs never stray from mid-pace, the beat kept simple. Drums and bass anchor picked strings with studied nonchalance, the only accent Tom’s voice and the one-off wail of a harmonica.
It makes for an arresting listen, none more so than the opener. If Hard Luck Boy’s marriage of small-town story with a universal theme and a cruel twist doesn’t raise hairs on your arms, check your pulse. It’s beautifully balanced, delivered with minimal backing. Brosseau’s spoken vocal is a gentle, questioning, bewildered tone sweetened only by sunshine notes from the guitar at the point of the payoff. Heartbreaking without being mawkish, blunt without being vicious, it sets the benchmark for an album that’s full of tumbleweed vignettes crafted from old-fashioned values.
Roll Along With Me is chick-a-boom lite with a catchy chorus and a sweet electric solo. Landlord Jackie has Buddy Holly echoes in its opening guitar line, the tale of frustrated longing and thinly-veiled voyeurism balanced with everyday details like dog-sitting and trimming the bougainvilleas. Vocally, Brosseau’s delivery is never rushed, often laconic, behind the beat, marching to its own scansion and occasionally all of these at once. The result forces the listener to concentrate; unsure of where he’ll go next, the words embed themselves with greater force. The reward is inherent in Brosseau’s voice, a supple, beguiling croon that veers from Orbison to Jones and various points in-between.
The album doesn’t stray too far from gentle until the last two tracks. My Sweetest Friend is a muscular full band sound driven by the snare drum and a short chorus riff. The disturbing opening couplet stays with you for some time after – ‘Look what the bitch made me do, and with that he showed his wound / Finding Catherine now will be the test’’. Last song The Wholesome Pillars drags its melody on the rising path of Brosseau’s vocal towards a satisfying end.
Perfect Abandon carries no illusions, wears no expectations. It’s stripped of embellishment to reinforce the songs; even the album cover depicts a faceless mannequin in half-shadow, the very opposite of any cult of personality. As a study in minimal storytelling, it works well. An album of outsider tales, Brosseau’s hard luck boy merits appropriation of the old adage; without hard luck, the listener would have no luck at all.
Review by: Paul Woodgate
Released via Tin Angel 2 March 2015
Pre-Order via Amazon