National Album Review: “Grass Punks” by Tom Brosseau

Posted on February 03, 2014 in Album Reviews, Arts & Culture
By dkelly

Grass Punks, released by Tom Brosseau, questions the imperatives of American folk, yet it is still able to pay dear respect to the timeless genre.

Folk music has always been an elusive term––world music played by lower socioeconomic classes, artists from the ‘60s folk revival (e.g., Bob Dylan, Joan Baez), and more recently, bands like The Milk Carton Kids have all been pigeonholed into the ever-expanding genre.Although Tom Brosseau sounds significantly different from all of these acts, most people still would say he plays folk music, whatever that means.

Looking specifically at Grass Punks, layered acoustic guitars are paired with vocals. Mandolin and electric guitar play occasional supporting roles but are not the central focus. Its harmonies are relatively simple, giving every chord equal worth. Lyrics are thoughtful but also pay respect to the value of subtle novelty.
“Cradle Your Device,” for example, opens the album by stating “You’re stuck inside a bidding war / You’re arguing over price / You hardly even acknowledge my existence / When you cradle your device.” This song’s meaning, having to do with the ironic communication issues brought on by the digital age, brings up a serious issue in a light-hearted context.

A three-chord pop progression driven by a thumping shuffle rhythm is layered with high-pitched chords that are strummed and finger picked. This tune could be mistaken to be another blithe love song, if one doesn’t pay careful attention. “Tami,” Brosseau’s unique way of describing a past love affair, is equally as creative. While the guitar parts here could be compared to that of Leo Kottke, the vocals are more like Lou Reed or even Radiohead. However, Brosseau’s sound still stands out. “I Love to Play Guitar,” happy and relaxed, rounds out the album which most musicians can appreciate, substituting “guitar” for any other instrument.

What exactly makes Grass Punks folk? As consistent with almost all other acts classified as belonging to the genre, simple sincerity. All of its tunes are presented at face value. Stripped-down instrumentation is used as a direct means to deliver a message.The direct message, therefore, seems to be the most pervasive quality in folk. It is abundantly clear, with Grass Punks, that Brosseau is able to convey a simple and honest message by way of only acoustic guitar and voice.