Erik Brandt: The Long Winter

Paul Whyte

Although this winter was a fairly mild one, almost to the point of being unnerving, Erik Brandt from the Urban Hilbilly Quartet has a few things to say in his album “The Long Winter.” I for some reason imagine what an album will be like before listening to it and I’ve often been surprised by when I end up listening to a certain recording.  Brandt’s “The Long Winter” is no exception.  A mixture of singer-songwriter material, pop, rock and country is blended together to develop a very cleanly recorded and catchy album.
The first track “Greater Than,” immediately snaps to the theme of the title, “it’s been a long a winter baby, I’m not getting warmer as the snow’s getting thicker” sings Brandt.  The shimmering guitar effects on the track and the snappy and tight drumming are truly great.
The next track is “Don’t Let it Happen to You,” a country sort of song about reckless women.  “She was a beautiful mess, a tornado in a dress, I should have seen in coming,” Brandt sings.  It takes almost a minute before the vocals kick in and it’s not the worst riff ever, but landing the hook earlier might have been nice.  It is amusing when Brandt calls for “guitar,” the guitar solo is decent, nothing too mind blowing, but it pulls the song together.
The album continues a country feel with the track “Anywhere But Here” and again, the main riff is kind of routine, but it’s when the break and chorus of the song kick in that things step up and the whole presentation pulls together quite well. The addition of an accordion/keys with an accordion effect is unexpected, but seems fitting. Dan Newton is credited for accordion duties so I’m assuming it’s of the real variety. “This home town life is killing me,” sings Brandt in this song about the claustrophobic effect of living in a small town.
The main thing I like about this album is that it switches up on genres, I’ve always been in the belief that some of the best albums switch up their sound here and there.  Brandt achieves this with the song “Poison Tree.” I’d describe the song as an indie/pop number with an organ.  There are female backing vocals on this track and it’s pretty good overall. It’s hard to tell who is singing, the tracks aren’t credited individually.  The only female credited for “harmony vocals” is Angie Talle.   
The track “Hard Life” also utilizes vocal harmonies that are very cool. The drumming is well stuck for sure.  The song borders on country, but yet it bends genres and that’s respectable. “Life is hard, hard is life,” sings Brandt and I won’t disagree with that.  The song primarily deals with blue collar work and the thankless and uncertain situation of that existence.
Brandt again switches things up with the piano driven tune “Wherever You Go.” A somewhat sad, somewhat happy pop tune that’s just a good song.  I hate writing about music sometimes and I might have said it before, writing about music can be like dancing about movies or something to that effect. The next track also utilizes the piano heavily and is also indie/pop with a great effect on the guitar that sounds almost like a slide is involved.  
The track “Tuesday Morning Again” shifts back to a country feel. It’s Tuesday morning, I’m running on empty, I can’t get Sunday behind me.  I wanted everything I could hold, but once I had it, my turned cold,” sings Brandt. You know you have a decent drinking country tune starting out a song with lyrics like that.  Dave Strahn is credited for banjo duties, and it certainly sounds like there’s a decent supporting banjo going on.
The main thing that immediately stands out about the track “Thoughtless” is the jazz feel to it.  The first few seconds of the track is the “stirring” of brushes on a snare.  The song is very low key and the jazz feel solidifies when a clarinet kicks in, probably played by Sean Egan, since he’s the only one credited for clarinet on the album.  My only complaint is that it’s possible it’s just a little too much of what you’d expect from a jazz/pop number but considering the rest of the material on the album, it certainly stands out.  There’s a clarinet solo of sorts, and I won’t deny that the song is great and adds to the album overall.
The last and shortest track on the album, at two minutes, just features a finger picked acoustic guitar and Brandt’s vocals. It’s an honest way to end off this interesting and dynamic album.
Overall, I really enjoyed this CD.  It’s well recorded and switched from country to indie-pop to folk and even jazz.  An album should be experienced rather than listened to and this album did actually achieve an “experience” feeling, so I was rather impressed overall.  There’s no a whole lot to the packaging and I wish the contributing musicians would have been credited by track, but that’s a small thing in the bigger picture of this whole album.  Noah Reimer is credited for the drum work and it is very well done.  Most of the lyrics are deep and meaningful and most of the guitar work is sufficient.  Over the top shredding solos would probably detract rather than add to a CD like this.  Erik Brandt plays with the Urban Hillbilly Quartet, and again, I’m not sure how one might go about getting this album besides visiting www.erikbrandt.com.  A number of the songs from this album can be listened to on his site.  Brandt will be playing several gigs in Southern Wisconsin and Minnesota in the next few months.