Brett Dennen

So Much More

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Occasionally, one comes across a male vocalist who has a very female style of singing and actually sounds like he could be a woman -- and that can be an artistic plus. It has certainly worked well for Jimmy Scott, one of the finest male jazz vocalists of all time. And having a female-sounding voice is also a positive for singer/songwriter Brett Dennen, whose So Much More demonstrates that he shares Scott's strong appreciation of Billie Holiday. But unlike Scott, Dennen is not a jazz singer; his turf is folk-rock, and Tracy Chapman is as strong an influence -- or an even stronger influence -- than Lady Day. The Holiday influence asserts itself in his vocal phrasing but not stylistically or genre-wise; Chapman, however, has influenced Dennen's songwriting in addition to influencing his soulful phrasing. The feminine quality that Dennen brings to his introspective, sometimes melancholy performances doesn't mean that he is devoid of male influences; discerning listeners will also hear traces of Bob Dylan and Dave Matthews in his material (Dennen clearly shares Matthews' appreciation of African pop). And none of these influences -- either female or male -- are people Dennen goes out of his way to emulate; it's clear that Dennen is his own person whether he is reflecting on romantic matters or sociopolitical concerns. Gratefully, Dennen avoids being preachy on his more sociopolitical lyrics; his approach is understated and subtle, and he doesn't come across as someone who is getting on a soapbox and beating listeners over the head with his beliefs. So Much More isn't quite as consistent as it could have been -- some of the tracks are excellent, others not as memorable -- but overall, this 2006 release shows Dennen to be an intriguing and expressive part of folk-rock.

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