At first listen, Bravado by Asheville based (unless you go by his Myspace page, which says Charleston) musician John Brannen presents itself as a made-for-country radio shoe-in. The opening track, “Raised a Rebel,” is full of the throaty singing and cliche one-liners that could share jukebox space with “Before He Cheats”and “Ladies Love Country Boys.”
“You don’t have to be from a Georgia farm if there’s a rebel yell down in your heart,” sings Brannen, who was technically born in Georgia but grew up in South Carolina. And while Bravado is a paradigm of slick production and glossy touches — a slide guitar riff here, a mandolin lick there — a quick glance at the “Through The Years…” photo album on Brannen’s Myspace page proves that he’s always been a jeans and guitar guy (see below). He’s been doing the country-rock thing since he was a teen. And he’s had great hair that long, too. (The musician does give hair and makeup credits on his album.)
While the 11 tracks of Bravado are easily digestible, it’s worth digging deeper than the Springsteen-meets-Bon Jovi derivations of “Still in the Game” and “I Could Be Persuaded” and the oft-covered Gram Parsons waltz “Hickory Wind.”
Try the cooly eerie “The Messenger,” a quieter, controlled burner. With its haunted country/r&b feel (in the spirit of Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire”) its churning sax and breathy female background vocals, the songs approximates the spooky production that Daniel Lanois’ gave Willie Nelson’s Teatro. Where Brannen’s vocal is hot in the mix and over-delivered on much of the disc, “The Messenger” has a laid back delivery that works well with the singer’s distinct voice.
“Barely Enough of Your Love,” a thoughtful two-step with the raw ache of early Bob Seeger, also makes good use of the tattered beauty Brannen can produce. “And there ain’t enough time left before I grow old. There enough kindness, there ain’t enough soul. There ain’t enough buckets of rainbow’s gold. Ain’t enough diamonds to buy back a love grown cold,” he sings — it’s a refreshingly original lyric that deserves repeated play.
“Dog Wants In” is easily among Bravado‘s strongest tracks, and the most in line with the album’s title. All honky tonk swagger, vintage keys and rock drumming, Brannen’s howl is at its sexiest. The song is long on energy and road house allure and, while the Southern cliches are there for the finding, the song’s strutting structure is suited to a predictable allusion or two. Makes singing along that much more fun.
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