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Dennen's Earnest Message Eased by Funky Groove

Cover from Brett Dennen's latest CD, <em>So Much More</em>
Cover from Brett Dennen's latest CD, So Much More

The first time you hear Brett Dennen, it's his voice that stops you short and makes you pay attention. Dennen is a tall guy from California farm country, but the singer-songwriter's voice is high, soft and sweet.

The songs on his new CD, So Much More are soft, too: mostly delicate '70s folk tunes with sensitive, earnest lyrics. But Dennen's soulful vocal delivery and some sly, understated funky grooves keep the whole thing from turning into Dan Fogelberg or Bread.

Dennen grew up in California's heartland, in the small agricultural town of Oakdale, surrounded by farms, cowboys, rodeos, and a Hershey chocolate factory.

He and his siblings were home-schooled.

"It wasn't for religious reasons, it wasn't for political reasons," Dennen says. "We were just a homegrown, close-knit family."

Dennen's upbringing shows through in the political idealism of some of his songs, such as "I Asked When."

"We can build tall buildings and bridges that stretch clear across the water," Dennen says. "We can do all these things, but still we don't have peace. We still don't have social justice. [It's] just absurd to me. Why if we can achieve all these other things, why can't we come together and achieve these things for humans on a more human level ."

Dennen's earnest, verbal, socially conscious voice owes a big debt to early Bob Dylan. And it vies for primacy with his other songwriting voice. There's a looser, funkier, less pedantic side to Dennen's music that gives the groove a little more space to breathe.

On songs such as "She's Mine," those two sides of Dennen's songwriting manage to come together and coexist.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Christian Bordal
Christian Bordal is a Norwegian-American (via Australia) musician, radio producer, and freelance music journalist who contributes regularly to Day to Day. He's very good at making faces and making a fool of himself, and he once impressed his NPR editors with a drunken recitation of the gibberish poem "Jabberwocky." He briefly considered launching a career performing at children's parties, but he finds his own children to be trouble enough. In addition to this list of remarkable professional accomplishments, he is a producer at member station KCRW in Los Angeles.