Everyone should be so lucky as to live in a place that inspires the kind of love song to a city as "San Francisco", the opening track in Brett Dennen’s latest album, "Hope For The Hopeless". Dennen grew up in Oakdale, CA, a couple of hours from the city by the Bay, but it seems pretty clear he spent a lot of time in the city itself. The lyrics call out many of the less glittery neighborhoods where musicians are likely to find themselves, like the Mission and the Lower Haight. Even the shout-out to the *other* baseball team in town belies a long-term resident of the area.
Overall, Dennen’s latest effort should appeal to his fan base in the velvet folk genre, while his increasing exposure via having songs on hit TV shows like "House" and "Grey’s Anatomy" will surely add new followers. This album won’t disappoint the newer listeners, as what you hear on any random cut from TV won’t fall far from the overall tree. Brett wears his emotions on his sleeve in this album, with many of the titles of songs giving away the jist of the lyrics, like "Wrong About Me", "Who Do You Think You Are", or "Follow Your Heart".
On "Heaven", the lyrics are very topical in this post-election, Obama era, with Dennen singing about "no color lines or classes", and asking the question that drove the album title, "is there a home for the homeless, is there hope for the hopeless?" "Who Do You Think You Are" is an enjoyable little ditty about the musings of someone taking a walk in the park, while "Wrong About Me" cuts a little deeper and explores the told-you-so act of sticking to one’s values at the expense of a good paycheck. It’s a choice most of us face at one time or another, and not everyone takes the high road of Dennen’s protagonist.
Sonically, the two standouts of the album are "Follow Your Heart" with a little more amp to the guitar and some oomph to the underlying beat, and "World Keeps Turning". "World" adds some reggae influence to the gentler rhythm of most of the songs, and you can almost hear a Marley or Tosh singing their frustation at how things are "here today and gone tomorrow".
Overall, "Hope For The Hopeless" is a solid outing from this singer-songwriter. He’s continuing down the path that brought him fans and success with songs that convey a strong sense of life’s experiences. There’s a lot to be said for someone who knows where they’re going.
(image from Wikimedia Commons)
About the author: I've actually driven from Tehatchapee to Tonopah. And I've seen Dallas from a DC-9 at night.