Tom Brosseau's Cavalier is a nostalgic album in which he sings of pretty yellow dresses seen behind screen doors, Atlantic City hotel rooms, horizons, hearts, and all that rust setting in. Released this month on U.K. label FatCat Records, Cavalier is a sparse collection of an intimate ten songs that will linger a long time after the last note is strummed.
Brosseau, raised in North Dakota and nurtured by a family of musicians and music lovers, plays the guitar in the grand tradition of Elizabeth Cotten, to name just one of the many blues, bluegrass, and folk musicians that have informed his sound. But what makes his music wholly unique is his lightly forceful high-pitched half-falsetto slight-vibrato-tinged voice. World weary, yes, but this is a 21st Century woe.
Producer John Parish, best known for his work with PJ Harvey, teamed up with Brosseau for this effort, in which he lends his delicate hand to fine-tune these classic yarns of old time Americana to make them more than simply throwbacks to John Steinbeck's dustbowl era. In addition to Brosseau's voice and guitar, there are slight horns, lingering piano, and accents of slide guitar and banjo.
The piano keys strike most often during ballads, as in "My Heart Belongs to the Sea." The twang of the slide guitar is heavy in "Committed to Memory," which is also the most percussion-driven track on Cavalier and the only song in which Brosseau's voice is noticeably reverb-y.
Then there are the bare songs like "My Peggy Dear" and closing track "Kiss My Lips," where Brosseau shines most brightly. It is in such tunes that Brosseau proves that he needs no embellishments beyond his lonesome voice and delicate picking. That's not to say I don't appreciate the extra instrumentation, it's a welcome addition that only makes those stripped-down moments all the more powerful. • Katy Henriksen