A decade since the release of his self-titled debut, Brett Dennen is back with a brand new studio album, Smoke And Mirrors. His fifth release, Smoke And Mirrors has already attracted positive attention, earning the Northern Californian songwriter tenth position on Billboard’s Top Independent Albums Chart. This record sees Dennen take a stripped back, acoustic approach, which, through its polished simplicity, makes a feature of his unique voice.
Dennen cites Paul Simon’s Graceland as his all time favourite album and the influence this has had on his music is clearly evident. This is especially the case in the uplifting opener Sweet Persuasion, which has a hooky guitar line reminiscent of the Paul Simon classic, You Can Call Me Al. This faster paced introduction is paired with Wild Child, the album’s first single, which boasts a deeply engaging sing-along chorus.
The song structure throughout this album is straightforward and simple, above all emphasising Dennen’s vocals, which are both bizarre and endearing in their high-pitched delivery. In tracks like You Make It Easy, the combination of these vocals atop of a twangy acoustic guitar make for an almost country sound, however throughout the album he still remains true to his beloved folk-pop, as is clear in Only Want You.
The fourth song on the record, Only Want You is a highlight, with Dennen’s heartfelt voice beautifully complemented by the rich backing vocals of Ruby Amanfu. It is followed by another standout, When We Were Young. With it’s heavier production and anthemic bridge, this substantial track plants itself gutsily in between Only Want You and the similarly sensitive title track.
Dennen returns to the elevating sounds of the opening tunes with Not Too Late, before concluding with the brooding Who Am I. A considered track, which stands out for its pensive lyrics and enticing electric guitar lines, Who Am I successfully resolves the album, ending it with a very cool, and somewhat unexpectedly laid-back approach.
Brett Dennen can be confronting to new listeners, as at times his vocals are difficult to digest. However with this fifth studio album it seems he has finally grown into his voice, making Smoke And Mirrors a significant achievement for the songwriter.