Brett Dennen: Hope for the Hopeless

Up ‘til now, Brett Dennen has been positioned as a sort of 21st-century troubadour, a scruffy kid with an acoustic guitar and a big ol’ heart pinned to his sleeve – which is why his third disc, Hope for the Hopeless, may give fans a bit of a shock, what with its generous coating of semi-glossy production (applied by John Mayer and Dave Matthews helmer John Alagia) and introduction of somewhat dance-friendly beats. Heck, there’s even a restrained Femi Kuti cameo on the first single, “Make You Crazy”! Fans who have loved Dennen for his previous albums’ strong coffee-shop vibe may cry sellout, but that’s just sour grapes talking: Hope for the Hopeless is no better or worse than what’s come before it, it’s just that Dennen’s less of an idealist than his lyrics might make you think, and he’s made a calculated bid to expand his audience. It’s a gamble that might have worked six or seven years ago, when this sort of pop-radio-friendly college rock was on the rise with the TRL set; in 2008, however – and coming from a smaller indie like Dualtone, which lacks the muscle enjoyed by Alagia’s more famous clients’ labels – it seems like an unlikely way for Dennen to broaden his fanbase. Still, the songs are solidly crafted and tastefully uplifting, and if the lyrics occasionally venture into softheaded territory (”Heaven ain’t got no prisons / No government no business”), the songs are more than capably presented by a band of session ringers that includes drummer Joey Waronker and guitarist Mark Goldenberg. It may not provide what its title promises, but if you’ve got room for a little more singer/songwriter pop in your diet, you could certainly do a lot worse than this. (Dualtone 2008)

Brett Dennen MySpace page


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