New folkie with an old soul

ROCKING OUT: Folk-rock singer/songwriter Brett Dennen played at the Culture Room in Fort Lauderdale on January 17.  MATT WALLACH // Hurricane Staff

ROCKING OUT: Folk-rock singer/songwriter Brett Dennen played at the Culture Room in Fort Lauderdale on January 17. MATT WALLACH // Hurricane Staff

Through the struggles of everyday people comes a soft melodic voice soaring with sounds of optimism and hope changing people’s lives, or so singer-songwriter Brett Dennen hopes.

With the recent release of his third album Hope for the Hopeless, Dennen adds to his portfolio of positivism with new folksy upbeat tunes and upbeat lyrics that are easy to sing along to.

Dennen is a California native whose musical career has hit the mainstream, having been featured on Grey’s Anatomy and John Mayer’s recent tour.

With musical influences that date back to his parents’ time, Dennen stays true to his old standbys.

“My staples are Neil Young, Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell.” Dennen said in an interview with The Miami Hurricane, though he admits that he has been listening to a lot of My Morning Jacket lately.

Dennen’s feel-good attitude is hard to escape; critics have compared him to modern artists Jack Johnson and James Blunt and old souls Bob Dylan and James Taylor. His unique voice and thoughtful lyrics bring something new to the modern folk genre.

“My audience is always growing and changing,” Dennen said. With this in mind, he writes songs that he hopes will unite people under a common theme. “There’s a lot of struggle out there,” he said. “Everyone has problems, some emotional and some that are much bigger. I try to be a voice of optimism and hope.”

In his song “Heaven,” Dennen sings of a seemingly utopian society where religion, skin color and class do not divide people: “Beyond the rules of religion/The cloth of conviction/Above all the competition/There’s no color lines or castes or classes/There is no fooling the masses/Whatever faith you practice/Whatever you believe.”

For Dennen, writing is a long process full of experimentation and charged with emotion.

“Usually when I get an idea for a song it’s something that just pops into my head,” he said. “Then I live with it a while and think about how I’m going to tell a story.”

Dennen’s personal story shines through his music. Also apparent are his left-leaning politics and his ambition to be a voice of change in a world that he sees as “an emotional struggle.”

While Dennen’s message of hope and change is obvious throughout all of his songs, it is more clearly felt on simple acoustic tracks like “So Far from Me” from Hope for the Hopeless where he truly excels as a musician.

In a world that can, at times, seem bleak and disheartening, Brett Dennen’s encouraging words, genuine sound and melodic tones gives listeners the hope that maybe his idea of utopia really can be realized.

January 21, 2009


Laura Edwins

Managing Editor

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The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published in print every Tuesday.