Garrett J. Brown’s debut album, Priorities, calls me back to my own earliest musical endeavors. I remember that I felt a lot older than my years back then, and that when I sat down behind my TASCAM four-track recorder, I was going for a very specific sound: something between the adolescent Conor Oberst of the late ’90s and Elliott Smith’s Either/Or. Admittedly, there isn’t much room for originality between these two sad-bastard inspirations.
You won’t find any hints of Oberst or Smith on Brown’s debut, but you will hear a musical product that results from just a handful of inspirations. This is not meant to put the guy down; Brown does his job well. But to be honest, the young local songwriter’s music is so clearly a product of his influences, I don’t have much else to say about him.
Here’s what I will say: Brown channels the intensely upbeat, feel-good sound of singer-songwriters such as Jack Johnson and Jason Mraz, while making few attempts to mask his very obvious influences. All the elements of this subgenre are prominent on Priorities: clean acoustic guitars, bongos and shakers, the fast-scat-style vocal breakdowns and infinitely positive lyrical content (“Kick back and take the long road / Relax for a while now, baby”). The music is far from bad, the production is professional, and the musicians all play their instruments well. It sounds as good as a Jack Johnson or Jason Mraz album. Take that how you will.
What Priorities lacks is the honesty of a songwriter acknowledging his unique perspective. I believe it’s the artist’s job to soak up experience — both the awe inspiring and the uncomfortable — and turn it back on the world from a fresh vantage point. That’s hardly an original statement about art, but it’s worth reiterating in this context. Though young, Brown is not a bad musician, and Priorities is a solid homage to his inspirations. I just want to hear a new voice.
Garrett J. Brown plays the Higher Ground Showcase Lounge this Sunday, March 25, as part of a benefit for VSA Vermont.