The usual distraction that shows up during my listening experience — the music itself drawing my attention away from the singer’s words — is sometimes overridden by a related and perplexing phenomenon: a voice that’s so entrancing that it manages to delay the processing of the delivered lyrics. Such is the case with singer/songwriter Bronwynne Brent’s fine new album, Stardust.
When Brent sings a phrase, I experience the odd sensation that I’m hearing her voice slightly out of phase with the lyric. At the pause, everything comes back together. Now you might think that this fractures the overall effect but somehow it enhances it. There’s a slight bit of breathy roughness in Brent’s voice, a texture that it’s easy to lose yourself in. And so the complete story of a relationship gone wrong shows up a short moment after “When you said goodbye I knew that I would die alone.” This introductory line is made all the more powerful by the simplicity of the early arrangement, with Bronwynne’s voice supported only by light strings. “When You Said Goodbye” also features this devastating look back: “Our lips were so soft then/and your kisses/were so very hard”. A story within a story right there.
To call Brent a singer/songwriter is to put her in a cage that just doesn’t fit. Though there are plenty of places on Stardust that show her Mississippi Delta roots, the music here goes far beyond just voice and guitar. “The Mirror” does begin with just guitar and ghosty keyboards…”You have my heart/When we’re apart/I walk the night alone…” But then a full band rumba kicks in, a sort of greasy shuffle reminiscent of Rain Dogs-era Tom Waits. I don’t generally get the urge to crank up “folk” albums, if you know what I mean.
Elsewhere, we have an assortment of lovers and miscreants (sometimes in one song) showing up in a variety of musical contexts. “Lay Me Down,” a tale of yearning, is introduced with acoustic guitar, counterpointed with a nice single horn line. “Bulletproof” is a film-noir blues, sleazed up with some Farfisa organ. Invert the boy/girl relationship of “Don’t Tell Your Secrets To The Wind,” and it’s not difficult to imagine it coming from Harry Dean Stanton in an alternate version of “Paris, Texas.” The full-band slink on this one is just fantastic.
One of my favorite examples of my “lyric dislocation” thing comes during “Devil Again.” Beginning with a foreboding banjo and guitar, Bronwynne sings: “Have you ever loved someone so much it hurt/so much it hurt?”. When I return from that voice reverie, I realize that she’s completed the thought with: “Have you ever kissed the hand of death?/And held your breath?/Just held your breath?”. Devastating.
Stardust ends with “Marrying Kind,” the sort of lovely country ballad you wish were still played on the radio. It’s full of longing and regret, and almost makes you wish you could relive the delicate parts of your past. Or maybe I should just listen again; Bronwynne Brent’s voice might have distracted me.