As documented by everyone from Ken Burns on down, country music came out of the fields of the South and the mountains of Appalachia. Alt-country, on the other hand, has its roots in the urban centers of the Rust Belt, like St. Louis, Chicago, and Pittsburg. Based on the new album from Brendan & the Strangest, I think you add Buffalo, Brendan Shea’s hometown, to that list. Are We Sure the Dawn Is Coming? is littered with the dirty guitar riffs you expect from that part of the world, but sometimes they’re laid down with a steel guitar or fiddle.
The flag-bearer for the alt-country influence is clearly We Can Beat Mercury. Referring to an astrological period long associated with bad luck, the guitars reinforce the conviction you can beat the odds. Some of Brendan’s lyrical flourish is here too: “it was a beautiful doomsday when we left that town behind.” My Little Hypocrite goes for more a rock and roll feel, albeit with some twangy fiddle. Turn Your Luck pushes a punk rock beat for an examination of the things a musician has to do to survive, with a perhaps sarcastic chorus to keep your chin up.
Shea also handles some more traditional country veins with ease. Stranded is a country ballad with a litany of slights from the singer’s ex, whereupon he pleads, “why you so mean to me?” Light Me A Candle is a nice country shuffle, with Brendan’s plaintive vocals relating the pain of achieving sobriety. Emerald City’s Gone is a more modern Nashville sound in an autobiographical tale of disillusionment with Seattle.
Shea has made a very personal album with Are We Sure the Dawn Is Coming. The stories carry a lot of personal experience that shaped his view of the world, and bring a bit of light-hearted cynicism to the telling. He added to that the relentless guitar and snare of a Rust Belt upbringing. Put together they form a musical schadenfreude of one musician’s life experiences, something you don’t want to miss.
About the author: I've actually driven from Tehatchapee to Tonopah. And I've seen Dallas from a DC-9 at night.