Saturday, October 15, 2011

Brother Sun - self-titled


Brother Sun is the trio of Pat Wictor, Joe Jencks, and Greg Greenway. After ten years or more each as a solo artist, they have come together, and the result is an album that sounds like they have never been anything but a group. Here are three singers who take turns singing lead and back-up for the other singers, and the vocal blend is a marvel. Each plays guitar, but Greenway can switch to piano, Jencks to bouzouki, and Wictor to lap slide guitar. I’m not sure who plays electric guitar on some songs. I don’t think there are any overdubs, and there are no other musicians on the album, but the sound is full and rich throughout. There are a minimum of solos here, and two songs are accompanied only by fingersnaps. Just as the singing is so tight, so too is the ensemble playing. These artists support each other and the songs they have chosen.

Based on the lyrics, I would have called this album The Rock and the Reason. One of the songs Pat Wictor contributes is Love is the Water, and the next line is “That wears down the rock.” Later, Joe Jencks contributes Love is the Reason. As solo artists, each of these artists as explored a number of different themes, but the songs on this album are all about reaching for love and friendship in the face of adversity. There are eleven songs in all. One reason the album held my interest that long, with only one subject for all the songs, is the wonderful variety of musical settings. The different instrumental blends make for a nice variety of textures. Vocally, Brother Sun can go from the creamy harmonies of Trouble to the gospel stylings of Well Well Well, to what might be called the “folk” style of All I Want is a Garden. It also helps to have the singers taking turns singing lead. All three convey emotion, but each in their own way. Greenway starts things off with Trouble. He sings in a high tenor, and he expresses beauty in the way he sings. But sadness and even anger lay beneath the surface, trying to break through. Jencks is also a tenor, but, as heard on Come With Me, the pain is closer to the surface in his voice. Beauty and love come through in his voice is yearning, but he also conveys hope. Wictor has the lowest voice here, and sings in a folk blues style. The rough surfaces of pure blues are smoothed out, but the strong brew of emotion still comes through loud and clear. On Sister Moon, Wictor presents a different voice for a different kind of song. This one has an almost lullaby quality, and the song comes across as a beautiful expression of the wonder of love.

One song perhaps best displays everything that is so right about this album. Go Tell Mary is a co-write by Tom Prasada-Rao and Pat Wictor. But Brother Sun is a group of three generous musicians who are most interested in what is best for the song. So it is Joe Jencks, not Pat Wictor, who takes the lead vocal on this one. The bluesy quality on Wictor’s writing comes through, but in Jencks’ voice this time, and it works beautifully. The song is a telling of the biblical story of Lazarus, from the point of view of his sister Martha. Martha’s love for her brother, and also her sister Mary, form the focus of the song. Martha has taken on burdens for her sister’s sake, and now she does not regret it, but she yearns to lay them down, if only for a little while. The song is thus consistent with the album’s theme, but it also demonstrates how much these three songwriters find to say about it.

The album concludes with All I Want is a Garden. This one is a song of a traveling musician’s love of home and family. The song functions on the album as a closing benediction and prayer. It’s a great conclusion to a fine album. I was already familiar with Pat Wictor’s music. Now I know that I will need to find out more about Greg Greenway and Joe Jencks as well. Stay tuned.

Brother Sun: Trouble

Brother Sun: Well, Well, Well