Brock Zeman

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Cold Winter Comes Back (2003), 6/10
Songs From The Mud (2005), 6.5/10
And The Dirty Hands (2005), 5/10
Welcome Home Ivy Jane (2006), 4.5/10
The Bourbon Sessions (2007), 5/10
$100 Difference (2008), 5/10
Ya Ain't Crazy Henny Penny (2010), 6/10
Me Then You (2011), 6/10
Rotten Tooth (2013), 5/10
Pulling Your Sword Out Of The Devils Back (2015), 6/10
The Pinball Sessions (2016), 5/10
The Carnival Is Back In Town (2017), 7/10
Hey Tom (2019), 6.5/10
Mostly Peaceful (2022), 4.5/10

Canadian singer-songwriter Brock Zeman debuted with the hardly innovative but certainly sincere and diligent Cold Winter Comes Back (2003), containing the desolate Dust, the country-ish Ridin' on the Rims and especially the eight-minute epic Billy n' Me. Half of Songs From The Mud (2005) is a more pensive work but the other half contains the ebullient 50 Dollar Bill, the trotting Dear Father, the apocalyptic Stan Ridgway-esque The Sun Went Down and even the old-fashioned bluegrass breakdown of Caroline.

He formed the Dirty Hands (with Steve Smith on dobro and pedal steel guitar) for And The Dirty Hands (2005) and Welcome Home Ivy Jane (2006), albums that hark back to the classic era of country-rock, to bands like the Eagles. Sweet Charlotte is the standout from the former, followed by the Don McLean-esque Talking Reality Show Blues, the rockabilly-tinged Blood of Christ Blues and the bluegrass-tinged White Freight Liner.

The Bourbon Sessions (2007), a collaboration with guitarist Dan Walsh, yielded Places to Fall and the The Cuckoo Song

$100 Difference (2008), a generally noisier album, doesn't have the explosive energy of Neil Young and the Crazy Horse, and Zeman's songs actually lose some of their pathos when coupled with a rowdy band. Moccasin Road is almost cowpunk.

The centerpiece of Ya Ain't Crazy Henny Penny (2010) is the eight-minute Ya Ain't Crazy Henny Penny, first agonizing and then stately like a requiem and finally romantically neurotic.

Me Then You (2011), his most radio-friendly album yet, runs the gamut from loud blues-rock (Push Them Stones) to catchy country-pop (Until It Bleeds), and from propulsive power-pop (Someone For You) to crawling blues (Claws), with a nod to Bob Dylan in Triple Crown and plenty of melodramatica bombast in Rain On the Roof #2.

Rotten Tooth (2013) is his blues-rock album, his best impersonation of George Thorogood in songs like Rotten Tooth, while the standout is the disjointed and apocalyptic Sending Strange Weather.

Brock modernized his sound on Pulling Your Sword Out Of The Devils Back (2015), the first major stylistic change of his career. Besides more eccentric arrangements, there's a deliberate more aggressive stance in songs that still belong to his conservatsive country-pop canon (notably the catchy Dead Manís Shoes) and there is a generally sinister tone in some of the ruder songs, like the boogie Sweat and the blues-rocker Drop Your Bucket. And Some Things Stay even winks at disco-music.

The Pinball Sessions (2016) overflows with that ferocious energy, from the sermon Walking in the Dark to the John Mellencamp-esque Push Them Stones. The album includes the lengthy psychodrama Killer In The Corn and a seven-minute version of Rain On The Roof # 1 #2. He also revisits old classics like 50 Dollar Bill (here an explosive garage-rock raveup) and Sweat (here almost a Tom Waits dirge).

The Carnival Is Back In Town (2017) Busted Flat The Carnival Is Back In Town (2017), a rock opera of sorts, appropriates styles of the 1930s and 1940s, backed by a band that includes saxophone, piano, accordion, fiddle, besides guitarist Blair Hogan, something that Randy Newman could have done. The sax leads the swinging dance of Hammer Them Stakes Down, the accordion leads the slow dance of Come One Come All the stately Warren Zevon-esque Stitch There are songs that sound like skits of an expressionist cabaret or British musichal of the Depression Era, like The Juggler, Freak Show and especially the polka The Moon Ain't Full. There's a peak of pathos in the longer piece, Drinks the Clown, which is also one of the most dejected. The opera ends with the mournful sax-tinged Bruce Springsteen-esque The Carnival Has Left Town (2017).

Some of that creative bonanza transfers to Hey Tom (2019), notably in the pounding rocker Hey Tom and in the nocturnal and jazzy I've Conditioned Myself To Be Cool. Most of the album contains more traditional fare like the singalongs Bake My Beans and Long Hard Drinking. Zeman is also at the peak of his melodic skills, as proven by the anthemic refrains of Canada and Ain't No Man, on the way to the gentle power-pop of closer Love Be Gentle.

Mostly Peaceful (2022) is a mediocre follow-up to two of his most important albums. There is hardly a song worthy of being added to his canon.

(Copyright © 2023 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )