For all you adventurous types out there, here’s a surefire way to travel back in time in 3 easy steps. Step 1: Jump into your ’57 Chevy pickup. Step 2: Put on Tom Brosseau’s Empty Houses Are Lonely. Step 3: Start driving. As the asphalt grinds beneath your whitewall tires, you’ll be transported to a time when simple guitar arrangements and soulful lyrics carved the landscape of American folk music.
Brosseau has the versatility to at times invoke the spirit of Woody Guthrie and at others recall such contemporaries as Iron & Wine and Rocky Votolato. With a warbling, often gender-ambiguous falsetto, he invites listeners to sit down for a minute and relax as his down-tempo folk carries them along the dusty road.
A resident of LA via Grand Forks, North Dakota, Brosseau has a wanderer’s blood coursing through his veins as well as his music. Empty Houses Are Lonely is a collection of songs ranging from heartbreak to childhood reminiscence, and highlights his recordings to date. It avoids the all too common verse-chorus-bridge structure of conventional pop tunes as it constructs moody backgrounds with sparse instrumentation.
“Fragile Mind” opens the album with Tom’s sorrowful croon, his only accompaniment a lonesome acoustic guitar. Loaded with escapist imagery, it sets the pace for what’s to come. Much of the album cruises just under the speed limit; Brosseau’s behind the wheel and he’s in no hurry to get there.
Join Tom on the front porch as the sun dips below the horizon for the old-time harmonica blues of “Dark Garage.” Lush with childhood memories and a rousing harmonica that just won’t quit, it will have you tapping your toes as you wax nostalgic for your lost innocence:
“I thought of all the things I knew that never meant that much to me
Playing cards in the spokes and mama’s laundry’s on the ground
Had fallen from the clothesline, when we pulled the pins one by one”
It’s the only song on the album where Brosseau puts the pedal to the floor as he hearkens back to his days in North Dakota.
“Heart of Mine” moseys with acoustic guitar and melancholic strings while Brosseau laments a lost love. By the time a forlorn harmonica enters stage left and the violins have garnered their listener’s tears, Brosseau revels in his languishment: “Soon my heart will wither and die/ What will you do with it then, my dear?” “Bars” echoes with ghostly reverb and resounds with the sentiment of “Bars, set me free.” It’s a stirring way to end an album tinged with sadness and longing for days gone by.
When at last your Chevy comes to a stop and the dust begins to settle, Tom Brosseau’s Empty Houses Are Lonely will have whisked you on a journey down the winding road of folk’s roots and driven you well into the 21st Century. And while it may take a little longer, Tom will get you there all the same.