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If superlatives come strong enough to do master singer-songsmith Erik Brandt’s The Long Winter (House of Mercy Recordings) justice, they escape this reviewer. Hate it when artists like that show up: they really make this a job.
Long-time head honcho of storied veterans the Urban Hillbilly Quartet, Brandt pulls off a true tour de force with ingenious, eclectic originality, some of strongest songwriting you’re likely to ever come across. None of which shocks anyone familiar with his chops at all. He don’t sing half-bad either, which also won’t surprise anyone. The musicianship is first rate: Brandt (vocals, piano, acoustic guitar, percussion), Phil Hicks (bass, percussion), Noah Riemer (drums), Dave Strahan (electric guitar, banjo), Jeremy Szopinski (guitar, percussion), and Angie Talle (backing vocals)—along with a list of guests that include sweet vocalists Ben Kyle, Chris Larmon, and Mike Schultz; and suave clarinetist Luke Jacobs. They take no prisoners.
Erik Brandt adds to his considerable discography, both with UHQ and solo, a career hallmark. The material on The Long Winter is amazing. Fresh. Soft-rock-cum-smart-pop at its best. The last time a recording like this came along, Bob Welch was on the charts. Similarly, the thing is chockfull of airplay-friendly cuts. “Hard Life” is a clear standout. Has hard-edged teeth with liquid, guitar-firing fuzz-toned licks. There’s hardly a college station in the country wouldn’t have listeners cued up for this one. It’s got that irresistible existential angst of which emerging minds can’t get enough—plus plenty enough drive to get them moving their hips. “I Drove Past Your House Today” is another gem, radio ready and doesn’t skimp on artistry. Showcases a laid-back, rock-solid vocal threading a sweet, sardonic melody.
Great as his lyrics are, the guy should be sued for not providing a sheet. You discern, here and there, a gist of what he’s singing about. Just enough to know you’d like to make out all the words. For instance, he’s got a line about “a beautiful mess” that leaves you intrigued—and frustrated.
Bottom line, the man is a musician’s musician. Erik Brandt’s The Long Winter is one of those rare finds you’re going to find yourself yammering about to friends, family, and anyone else you can get to still long enough to listen.