GFI Music, 2009
REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/02/2010
Singer-songwriter roots-rock is ultimately about two things – craftsmanship and passion. It’s got to be more than just guitars and voices; the songs have to be grounded and insightful and have genuine emotional resonance to work. And the artist has to be completely invested in his or her songs; it’s a genre where every note and every word has to ring true or the whole structure just collapses in on itself.
It’s also a genre in which tremendously talented disciples like Chris Cubeta, Michael McDermott and Mark McKay all gather around the man with the center seat, Mr. Bruce Springsteen. After several listens to Esperanza, I would add to that notable crowd of admirers Mr. Brian Lindsay of Rochester, New York. This album is the sound of a man who listened to “Thunder Road” and said to himself, “That’s what I want to do.”
Lindsay’s sophomore solo release is a striking piece of work -- not necessarily because it’s the most original songwriting I’ve ever heard (it isn’t), but because Lindsay consistently elevates these songs above their station with his passionate delivery and spot-on arrangements. Acting as his own producer, with occasional help from collaborators Tony Gross (guitar) and Alan Whitney (guitar/vocals), Lindsay knows exactly what he wants from each of these songs and wrings every ounce of drama and passion out of each that they’re capable of delivering.
Thundering opener “Lay Your Burden Down” delivers conspicuous Springsteenisms from the melodramatic build of the song to lyrics like the title/chorus and “Life can be a fragile as a house of cards,” but delivers nonetheless thanks to a compelling arrangement and performance. “King Of The Mountain” trades the steel guitar of “Burden” for mandolin, playing the lighter tones off some gritty electric guitar and drawing comparisons to John Hiatt’s “Cry Love.” Halfway through, Lindsay doubles the til-then deliberate beat and the song takes on a barroom-stomper edge that has me thinking Steve Earle.
“Let’s Get Together (Rejuvenation)” adds horns and honky-tonk piano for a roadhouse romp through a time-honored Springsteen theme, a “Leap Of Faith”-style celebration of the powers of sexual healing. And “Summerville” delivers a genuine anthem, risking it all on the type of song where a wrong word can turn the whole effort sour, and coming out a winner.
The darker, more country-tinged title track is another potent slice of melodrama that works as much because of Lindsay’s totally committed delivery as the quality of the song itself. And while the ganged background vocals and harmonica are all Bruce, the fiddle and Lindsay’s over-the-top passion delivering a song about riding bikes past the hundred-year-old ghosts of the Underground Railroad make me think of Garth Brooks.
“Brothers In Arms” extends this country feel with more mandolin and fiddle supporting a gritty story-song with a Kris Kristofferson / Jackson Browne feel to it, based on a journal kept by Lindsay’s great-grandfather during the Civil War. “My Lucky Day” blurs the line between admiration and imitation with a song that adapts a favorite Springsteen theme -- how people overcome adversity in small and simple ways that grant them some sense of redemption and future possibility – and gives it a title Springsteen used just last year.
One of the most likable songs on this disc, the friendship anthem “New York City To The Bayou,” suffers under the weight of its cliché-littered opening stanzas, but once you get past “Jackie caught a ride out of the Big Apple / To help a friend in the Big Easy,” it does get steadily better.
Esperanza closes out with a pleasantly anthemic number about the “Last Days Of Summer” and finally the rather Dylan-and-The-Band “The Balance.” Like so many of these tracks, this pair feels familiar in ways both positive and negative. You can’t really hope to win any points for originality using a phrase like “the circle of life,” but it’s all in the delivery, and Lindsay sings it like he means it.
This album is in fact littered with phrases and themes familiar to any Springsteen fan -- “I won’t let you down, my love grows stronger still” “Lay your burden down“ “Let’s rendezvous beneath the town sign” “Wrap your arms around me like you’ll never let me go.” But that’s not necessarily a criticism – just a statement of fact, evidence that while these aren’t heavyweight songs, they’re welterweight, solid and respectable and imbued with the same sort of rough-hewn dignity and raw beauty that Springsteen often achieves.
Esperanza is a passionate, committed, and innately likable blast of roots-rock that feels both familiar, and welcome at that.