A deliberately careful songwriter with an at times Dylanesque flair for unlikely rhymes (he matches "spokes" with "hoax," for instance, and mostly gets away with it), a certain Nick Drake-like fragility (due in large part to his voice, which is pitched high and sounds at times eerily like Billie Holiday), and a subtle African pop feel (he has Femi Kuti singing backing vocals on one of the songs here), Brett Dennen is certainly singular, and at his best, he catches a breezy, mellow groove that allows his thoughtful songs to truly shine. If there's a downside, it's that they all shine in almost exactly the same way, and over the course of an album, can start to feel like one big mellow song sung over and over again without a whole lot of variation. But when these songs work, they really work, and pieces like "Heaven," even though Dennen goes on about things like "the cloth of conviction," are strikingly effective. Other standouts on Hope for the Hopeless, his third album, include the Kuti track, "Make You Crazy" (which features Dennen's most perfectly soulful and spirited vocal yet), the easily likeable "World Keeps Turning," the impressive "Ain't Gonna Lose You" (where the spokes/hoax rhyme dwells), and the innocently positive and hopeful "Follow Your Heart," even though it sounds maybe too much like a second rewrite of Neil Young's "Heart of Gold" at times. Nothing here is less than pleasant, but the lyrics do get a little on the overwrought and ornate side in songs like "So Far from Me," where crows ravage a field of wheat while scarecrows know their own defeat etc., and if Dylan can get away with stuff like that because he's, well, Dylan, Dennen makes it all sound just a little too delicate and labored. Still, Hope for the Hopeless works more than it doesn't, and when it really clicks here, which is often enough, Dennen shows himself to be a unique voice and talent.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett
feat: Femi Kuti