Apparently Perfect Abandon is North Dakota musician Tom Brosseau’s ninth album although he’s new to Blabber’n’Smoke. Googling his past releases reveals critics’ tendency to link him in with early sixties folksters while he varies his approach to recording, solo or band based at times. However it’s the current release we’re looking at here and while it’s a bit of a curio there’s no doubt that Brosseau has crafted a very fine set of songs that together draw the listener into his world, a world he observes and relates to with an air of detachment and reports on with an almost childlike sense of wonder and discovery.
This sense is reinforced by the simple recording process, perfectly captured by producer John Parish, with Brosseau on acoustic guitar accompanied by guitarist Ben Reynolds (from Glasgow’s Trembing Bells), double bassist Joe Carvell and drummer David Butler. Sat in front of one microphone on a theatre stage in Bristol they recorded the album live with no overdubs over two days. The result is an intimate sound, warm and engaging with the band sounding as if they were sitting beside you with the percussion in particular rattling around the room. It’s not lo-fi and it’s not weird folk but it is akin to some of the lesser known folk artists of the sixties such as Ed Askew while its general ambience is not too far removed from Skip Spence’s Oar.
The album opens with its simplest song, the talking blues of Hard Luck Boy featuring Brosseau’s gossamer voice and guitar. Delivered as if humorist David Sedaris was inhabited by the ghost of Woody Guthrie it sets Brosseau up as an abandoned child and although it might be a flight of fancy one can imagine the remainder of the album as an attempt to recover from this. Roll Along With Me introduces the band with squirrelly guitar lines over a loose rhythm section. There’s a train metaphor here but it’s not a barrelling new frontier feeling that’s evoked, rather the lyrics are introspective and narcissistic and the locomotive stutters along the way. Tell Me Lord is a supplication asking the Lord to explain the singer’s existential angst as he rails against his isolation and loss, at times almost howling. Take Fountain and Landlord Jackie are narratives describing a lost boy in an adult world with the words rushing out, word salads seeking to make sense of things and here the recording method perfectly suits as the sounds envelop the listener allowing Brosseau’s voice to worm its way in. There’s a disconnect in the anthem to an Eden that is Island In the Prairie Sea as Brosseau sings as if he’s imagining himself inside a picture postcard wishing himself into the scene. As he describes his imagined paradise there’s a pervasive sense of loneliness in the delivery. In this vein My Sweetest Friend might be retitled My Sweetest Imaginary Friend as Brosseau casts blame for his wrongs elsewhere. The album stutters to an end with the magnificent waywardness of The Wholesome Pillars, a song of despair and hope that recalls Bonnie Prince Billy and features the ensemble at their gloriously ramshackle best.