Brooke Brown - 'Troubled Heart' Album Review
1. Somewhere In Between
2. Tossing Pennies
3. I Should Be Sleeping
4. Bad Tattoo
5. Ace Of Hearts
6. Raggedy Ann
7. No Condition
8. Johnny’s Cash
9. I Don’t Chase Whiskey
Country gold was the first descriptor that came to mind when I first heard Brooke Brown. As I have been playing these songs on repeat, that description remains just as accurate. These are not just songs that you listen to superficially and move on with your day. These are songs that weave stories through vivid character descriptions and gut wrenching emotions. Emotional investment pays dividends here as Brooke Brown collects songs she has previously released individually and a few new ones to present an album similar to 70 years ago when albums were more a collection of songs, in part because the singles were so damn good individually. This won’t just be an album for 2020 for me; I can see this album being a signpost similar to ‘Guitar Town’ by Steve Earle where it never really leaves my rotation.
‘Somewhere In Between’ serves as the perfect opener here as Brown tells us who she is and where she comes from right up front. She puts a stake in the ground in the same way that fellow Alabaman Allison Moorer did on her debut ‘Alabama Song’ back in 1998. The acoustic frame reminds me of something that Miranda Lambert would do. Brown sings in a beautiful voice with her drawl present but not overdone. It is completely natural and just flows. The narrative is vivid and a statement of intent. She continues with the musically mellow ‘Tossing Pennies’ where she recounts part of her journey to get to the figurative crossroads where she is today. As she talks about pawning off everything she owns music related, it creates a sense of urgency in the listener to say ‘don’t you dare do that’ because the world needs to hear these songs. The guitar and piano serve the song perfectly in the mix. This is also a song that in no way feels like it is over five minutes long. Quite simply, it is a gorgeous song. Brown follows it with another slow powerful narrative in ‘I Should Be Sleeping.’ There is a great flow to the song where you feel like you are sitting with Brown in the middle of the night as a fly on the wall as she thinks about life. The hook in the chorus is powerful, and it is refreshing to listen to her spill out that her intuition isn’t always right as it deviates from the standard my gut is always right approach. This is a character who is struggling internally and trying to come to terms with what is real.
‘Bad Tattoo’ picks up the tempo and features several cool ad libs. Brown adds a healthy bit of attitude here as she recounts a bad relationship. The change in tempo adds another flavor to the album, and the tattoo in question here are the scars relationships create in our minds, hearts, and souls as opposed to something as superficial as an actual tattoo on the skin. I struggled with trying to figure out what the verse of ‘Ace Of Hearts’ was reminding me of, and I think it is a bit of ‘Different Breed’ by Carter’s Chord. This one has a nice groove and a killer chorus that just stands out more and more with each listen. Lyrically, this serves as another example of Brown’s brilliance. ‘Raggedy Ann’ slows the pace back down for an acoustic journey that takes its time to tell the story at a perfect pace. Brown again sings with a survivor’s attitude where you feel she is barely left standing, but nothing in the universe is going to knock her down again. Brown’s voice is simply perfect.
For the last stretch, Brown presents an extremely emotionally vulnerable vocal in ‘No Condition.’ If there has ever been a song where you just want to comfort the singer, this is it. The lyrics are extremely powerful and descriptive while Brown talks about returning home to a funeral after being gone for an extended period of time. It channels emotions in me related to the passing of my grandparents where it had been so long since I had seen either of them when my grandmother passed away. ‘Johnny’s Cash’ feels more lighthearted in part because of the way she utilizes various Cash song titles throughout the lyrics while she talks about the end of a relationship gone wrong. The up tempo beat is perfectly placed within the context of the album. Brown ends with another slice of gold in ‘I Don’t Chase Whiskey.’ It continues the up tempo vibe with another light hearted feeling compared to what has come earlier and again reminds me of a song Lambert might sing, especially with the Pistol Annies.
Brown has released an excellent debut album with this collection of songs coming together to serve as a cohesive listening experience that simply moves from strength to strength. If there is any justice, this album will elevate Brown up to greater exposure and many more people being able to experience the power of these songs. With her lyrical prowess, listeners will welcome and relate to these stories on multiple levels. Highly, highly recommended.
‘Troubled Heart’ is available now.
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Review - Gerald Stansbury