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An Acoustic Life

Brett Dennen gets some pop on his folk



I know that this is a gross oversimplification, but I'm going with it anyway: Brett Dennen is a hit with the ladies. That's not to say that his music is aimed at women specifically, but over the last few years, I have had at least two dozen women try to introduce me to Brett Dennen's laid-back folk pop. It might have something to do with his combination of his thick ginger locks and bespectacled hipster-vibe, or it could be his singer-songwriter tendencies of vulnerability through straightforward lyricism.

Dennen was homeschooled as a child, so music became his first love as he learned the guitar and then eventually songwriting. His biography almost comes across as the history of a Disney character, dedicated to fixing wrongs and striving to make the world fit closer to his worldview.

He attended a summer camp where he eventually became a counselor. He works with The Mosaic Project, a nonprofit whose vision is "a just, diverse, and inclusive world where individuality and community are both core values and where listening, empathy, and assertiveness guide our interactions." My personal favorite is that while he was a student at UC Santa Cruz, after leading numerous anti-smoking campaigns, he helped get the ash trays removed from building entrances.

In 2004, Dennen released his self-titled debut on an indie label, but once a CD ended up in the hands of an influential DJ, his major label record deal was soon to follow. His debut is mostly love songs, but there is a maturity to them that belied his young age.

His second record, "So Much More," was released in 2006 and absolutely exploded. It's the #1 most downloaded folk album on iTunes and the opening track, "Ain't No Reason" is almost his signature tune. The album still leans heavily on love songs, but Dennen also starts exploring philosophy and cements himself as this generation's Paul Simon. The simplicity of the arrangements is buoyed by his insightful songwriting. With lyrics like "Keep on building prisons we're gonna fill them all/keep on building bombs we're gonna drop them all," Dennen definitely has quite a bit on his mind.

"Hope For the Hopeless" (2008) sees Dennen exploring some afro-beat and reggae vibes, while still toting his acoustic guitar to John Mayer-esque levels of crooniness. "Loverboy" (2011) has Dennen going dance and having fun for the first time in a few albums. Whenever a song threatens to become somber, he backs up and gives the tune hope and joy.

"Smoke and Mirrors" (2013) is Dennen at his most introspective. There's a sense of him searching for something. It's not certain whether he finds it, but it makes for some of his most mature songwriting to date.

This brings us to his latest record, May's "Por Favor." The album has a back-to-basics vibe that should please old fans and make him a few new ones along the way. At 36, his voice still has the same youthful rasp and nasal drawl, but now he can stretch out and relax. Instead of reminding the listener of Mayer or Simon, there's more Brian Wilson in his songwriting. He's on a beach now instead of in a coffee shop.

Whether Dennen's fans are mostly female-centric or whether I just have limited exposure to his fanbase, one thing remains certain: he's making music for himself more than anyone else. Every song feels like a journal entry we maybe shouldn't have read, but it's too late to go back. Apparently, his beach has plenty of room for all.

Brett Dennen

Wednesday, Sept. 28, 7pm

Tower Theatre, 835 NW Wall St., Bend


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