If someone asked you to cite some influences on Derek Lee Bronston, you'd likely come up with names like the Texan country-folk singer/songwriters Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt, or maybe even the New Yorker Steve Forbert, whose smoky voice Bronston's often resembles. The last thing you'd probably imagine is that this is the same Derek Bronston who started out playing rock before graduating to downtown-style avant jazz in N.Y.C., working with the likes of Cecil Taylor and as the leader of his own jazz band, with a couple of previous albums under his belt in that style. There is little evidence of Bronston's jazz past on Empty River: the crisp guitar lines that populate these songs, though sometimes expansive and intricate, display no tendencies to break out and explore the outer limits, Bronston's voice is distinctly non-urban, and his compositions are succinctly structured affairs that make their point without wandering. They're good songs too, honest and vivid, evocative and emotional. Bronston, who plays Dobro, harmonica, and bass, in addition to the guitars, is a careful and choosy song-craftsman. Both his words and music are devoid of waste and make maximum use of what's at his disposal, whether with his full band (vocalist Melissa Greener is a find) or on his own, as in the stark "No Place to Fall" (written by Van Zandt) and "All I Need." Whether Bronston will stick with this genre now that he's found it is anyone's guess, but if he does, he can go further in knowing that it suits him well.
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AllMusic Review by Jeff Tamarkin