Brett Dennen can be deceiving. At first listen the singer/songwriter with the vivid red hair, charmingly reedy voice and sing-along tunes comes across as an exceedingly pleasant talent in a modern music world airbrushed and autotuned to perfection and populated by incessant competitive posturing. He’s refreshing, is Brett Dennen, and his newest album, Loverboy, is easy on the ears and addictive in its sweet complexity. It’s been number one on my playlist for the last few months and with every listen I find more to like about it. So, naturally, I couldn’t wait to see him and his band perform live.
I figured it would be, you know, refreshing.
The Loverboy tour stopped last week at Workplay in Birmingham, Alabama so I jumped into a surf blue PT Cruiser and hurled myself westward to “The ‘Ham” as locals sometimes call the city. Workplay is a great venue in which to see live music so I was pleased. It had been a long week. I was ready to be refreshed.
Brett took the stage among cheers from a loyal and loving crowd of about 200 people and without greeting or fanfare the 5-piece band launched into the first few songs. Not surprisingly, he was good. Really good. I was happy.
Then, somewhere in the middle of the fourth song Brett Dennen turned into a black woman jazz singer.
The gawkily graceful Dennen, who, as one friend once told me, “is, like, 7 feet tall” (he’s not, but trust me, the dude is tall) showed off his considerable vocal chops as he scatted and sang his way through the number and with eyes closed he displayed an intensity that drew me in. He did more than just perform the song. He channeled it. I went from refreshed to fascinated in about five seconds. As a singer and songwriter Dennen has been compared in the press to the legendary Van Morrison but I can just about guarantee that Morrison, for all his immense ability, has never transformed into a black female jazz singer in the middle of a song.
This is what I meant by saying Brett Dennen can be deceiving. A casual Californian in every way, Dennen appears to border on being a throwback to a hippie-er time. In reality he possesses a timeless quality that not only infuses his softer offerings (“Frozen In Slow Motion”) but also his rocker side (the superbly engaging “Queen Of The West Side”). He seems to morph from song to song - at different times seeming very young, then old, accessible, remote, shy, then sensual. In all forms he seems prepossessed and completely comfortable with himself. He’s compelling and fun to watch. Where some performers burst onto a stage and throw their charm like a cloak around the audience, Dennen makes you come to him. He draws you in with his sweet songs and small smile and then hits you over the head with his considerable vocal and musical capabilities. His band is no slouch either and together they make for a really great musicial evening.
For my friends of all ages who do nothing but complain about the Britney Spears, Kanye Wests and Ke$has of the world I have your antidote and his name is Brett Dennen.
SEE/HEAR Brett Dennen sing “Darling Do Not Fear” from the Birmingham show here.