Trying To Get To You

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Marc Broussard Gets Back

I’ve been watching Marc Broussard since he got signed to Island Records over four years ago. The first time I saw him was at an audition for Island when I was doing A&R there. There were about forty people crammed into a rehearsal studio in midtown Manhattan. Marc opened with an a cappella version of Bill Withers’ “Who Is He And What Does He Mean To You” and the hair on my arms stood up (something that happens about 1 in a 100 times at a label showcase) as Broussard nailed it, singing it powerfully and passionately, referencing the original, but making the song completely his own. The rest of the showcase was a blur to me, but when I was asked my opinion about whether we should sign him, I was a vehement “yes.”

Marc released a fine debut album, Carencro, in August of 2004, and spent the following year on tour supporting it and building an increasingly enthusiastic fanbase. Watching a performer develop in front of your eyes is an incredible thing, and each time I saw Marc play, his command onstage - of both himself and the audience, was growing exponentially. He was able to use his entire band as an instrument in itself, fleshing out a couple of the more static pieces on record into tour de forces live, infusing them with humor and drama. And he walked onstage with a swagger that hearkened back to the soul men of the 60’s and 70’s; flashing a megawatt smile, Broussard carried himself like a star, even if the rest of the world hadn't gotten the news yet.

After recording an album for Island that was left unreleased, and winning his release from the label, Broussard has just released S.O.S.: Save Our Soul, a collection of covers of soul classics from the 60’s and 70’s by Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding, Bobby Womack, the Pointer Sisters, Al Green and others. While the album is a stop-gap measure in between original albums (and labels), it also serves as a way for Broussard to return to his roots before charting his next musical course.

Broussard’s voice is in fine form, and the material is more than second nature to him – it’s music that is in the core of his being. Unfortunately, the album plays most of the material too safely. A little too faithful to the originals, Broussard sounds good, but is missing the joy, ecstasy and risk from his live shows that would transform these covers into something more than what they are, which is enjoyable. Broussard is a singer with considerable edge, and that edge is rarely present here – and that's unfortunate, because he’s much better when he’s being bad than when he’s being good.

The grand exception to this is Broussard’s version of Donnie Hathaway’s “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know.” A lesser-known song than most of the others on the album, and perhaps because there's less of a legacy to live up to with it, Broussard owns the song. Finding a home in the sparseness of the arrangement, Broussard makes the love that he sings about tangible and present – and puts in a depth and drama that’s authentically his own, making it the transcendent moment on the album.

Marc Broussard still has all the ingredients needed to be a star – a great voice, loads of charisma and a musicality that’s in his blood. I’m eager and curious to see where he goes next with his next album of original material. What I believe will provide the difference for Broussard is a willingness to take more musical and emotional risks as well as quitting being so nice, and putting the swagger back front and center. Soul men may be vulnerable, but most of the great ones only show you their soft side after they’ve established that they’re a bad motherfucker.

Buy S.O.S.: Save Our Soul at Amazon

Download: "I Love You More Than Words Can Say"
Download: "Just Like That" (7/23/03, Birmingham, AL)

1 comment:

Philip Clark said...

I'm late to the party in recognizing this massively talented artist But I recently picked up all of his records. This guy can seriously wail, and he writes excellent songs. Great to see you posting about him, Ben!