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Album Review

BRIAN LARSEN
Breaking

There is a lot of hype surrounding Brian Larsen and I'm sure a small part of it is warranted., but one wonders why it is so important these days to point out the long musical paths and early career starts of the lesser knowns. I suppose in this strange world of reality everything, even though the vast majority is actually scripted, it counts for something. For myself, the facts that Larsen (at 23) has released eight albums and posts a weekly YouTube 'vlog' (ahem, video blog, I assume--- www.blogbrian.com, for those so inclined)) and has been playing since the ripe old age of eleven carries little weight. If Larsen is about the music, as proclaimed, it had better be 'in the grooves' as we used to say before digitization.

Music AND a sense of humor. No wonder the Bingo ladies love him...

Larsen himself falls into the hype trap when he lists those who influenced him through the years--- John Mayer, REM, Lindsey Buckingham, Fleetwood Mac, The Byrds and The Beatles. If I'd read the promo sheet I might have actually listened for those influences and possibly even found them, but I have a policy of not doing so until having heard the music. Ah, the music. The do all and be all of the real musician. No amount of hype can overcome mediocre music. Not in the long run.

So I listened. For three months I have listened and here are my findings:

Brian Larsen is pure musical stealth. Rather than overwhelm as so many do these days, Larsen chooses to sneak up on rather than club the listener with his music. The songs, on the whole loosely put together, neither blow you away nor repulse you at first listen. They are pleasant enough and in places more, but that is the stealth. When that first listen becomes a second and a third, you find the songs a comfort as much as anything, new friends you don't quite know and yet are willing to. Numerous listens later, you find those songs forcing favorites from your head, replacing them without you even realizing it. At that point, you are hooked.

Larsen has an ease about his songwriting and performing. It is not the ease of the everyday soft-rocker or troubadour and yet could be mistaken for that. One can hear the essence of early '70s artists in places--- that of a Jim Dawson or a Jimmie Spheeris or a Wayne Berry. The voice is different, sure, but the aura comes through and if you get it, you get a lot. There are anomalies, like Hang On, shadowing new wave rockers The Shoes, and Breaking mirrors Jim Dawson's smooth and overlooked Saturday Airplane, though only slightly. But overall, Larsen seems able to grab a few seconds here and a few seconds there and weave them all together to make a new whole all his own. It is a dilemma, this sounding like everyone and no one, and very hard to describe so I will stop trying. Before I do, let me state that in this case, it works and works very, very well.

When I said this was loosely put together, I did not mean that these efforts are unprofessional, by any means. True, some songs sound like they shred at the end, loose pieces floating away until nothing remains. Others stop short, that dreaded 'cold ending' a musical version of running into a wall. In Larsen's case, these do not hurt the music but promote it. In a business of perfection brought on partly by this digital age of recording in which we can auto tune voices and overdub so precisely we can't even tell, Larsen has chosen the human way out. He lets the music flow. At times, that means a 'cold ending' or a ragged edge and I thank the gods for them. Sometimes, artists spend so much time perfecting songs that they take the heart out of them. Larsen's songs may be loose, but they have plenty of heart.

Would I recommend Breaking? Let me put it this way. Sometimes when I'm walking down the street, I hear a song from the album in my head and before I know it am walking in cadence. When I notice it, as I sometimes do, I don't change anything. If I did, it would break the spell and there are all too few times when I can block the world out for the pleasure of the music. Pleasure. That's how I should have started this review. Brian Larsen is pleasure on a disc. Or chicken on a stick. I've already decided. Your turn.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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