Soul Man, Sex Symbol: Marc Broussard, Keep Coming Back

By Daniel Garrett

Marc Broussard, Keep Coming Back
Produced by Justin Tocket and Calvin Turner
Atlantic, 2008

Marc Broussard’s voice is confident, direct, earthy, large, and warm; and his music is high energy, featuring many instruments, including horns, that produce a lively sound of layers and textures: expressive, intense, with embellishments of melody and rhythm, without reticence, without pretension. This is music grounded in a recognizable world, in recognizable attitudes. It is music in which the listener can hear a little blues and jazz and the possibility of rock and disco: it is a reminder that the genre of rhythm-and-blues has been central to popular music, though sometimes it has been treated as marginal. Marc Broussard is able to easily conjure a communal voice: this is music of social life, and this is music of an individual spirit.

The creative work of Marc Broussard has drawn many comparisons to rhythm-and-blues music made from 1960s until now, but Broussard’s artistry seems influenced by that music, and in conversation with that music, rather than exploitative; and Broussard’s album Keep Coming Back has a richer sound than most of the other people, such as Duffy, Sharon Jones, Raphael Saadiq, Ryan Shaw, and Amy Winehouse, now mining the same vein. With lots of horns, guitar, and percussion, the song “Keep Coming Back,” from which the album draws its title, is a song about the singer’s loyalty to his listener. “Hard Knocks” affirms that the singer’s education has come through experience, and Broussard’s impassioned singing is supported with a deeply moody groove, featuring an organ and guitars. Although Marc Broussard’s voice is not yet as distinctive as that of Stevie Wonder or Al Green, nor that of Anthony Hamilton or Jill Scott, his is soul music: and, as with Leela James, Chrisette Michele, Robin Thicke, and a few others, his offers promise for the music’s renewal. (Broussard is able to convey sincerity, but I’m not sure that the element of introspection—which can be transcendent—is as present.) Lightly romantic, melodious, suggesting dance, is “Real Good Thing,” with the theme of choosing to spend time with a desirable woman rather than with male friends. Broussard’s voice is dominant in his encounter with singer Sara Bareilles in the song “Why Should She Wait,” about a man’s being inconstant in a relationship. Broussard extends his area of concern with “Power’s In the People,” which offers a catalog of social trouble with a call for collective unity (and a glossily urgent horn arrangement).

“You don’t know me but I don’t even know myself,” Broussard sings in the confessional ballad with piano and strings, “Evil Things,” which has lyrics that portray feeling redeemed in someone else’s love. Broussard’s love duet with Leann Rimes, “When It’s Good,” featuring the lines “when it’s good, it’s good, when it’s bad it ain’t that bad,” suggests a contentment that can be built on. “Man for Life,” in which a woman is the partner whose mood and commitment are changing, and less dependable, has a very appealing vocal arrangement but it reminded me of something else, a different song that I couldn’t quite name. “Another Night Alone,” a ballad about loneliness, has a sentimental melody and message; and Broussard’s singing here has the trace of a blander, theatrical tradition (it sounds like Broadway meets pop-soul: and wouldn’t it be ironic if Broussard were paying tribute to Michael Jackson paying tribute to Broadway). With an organ and percussion creating a dance rhythm, “Saying I Love You” is about practicing the love that one declares. The soft “Going Home,” with a pedal steel country tinge and strings, is about returning home to a lover after time away; and the album’s hidden song, “Evangeline Rose,” with full-throated singing and guitar, is about home as well, and thoughts about “my little girl.”

Marc Broussard’s Keep Coming Back is evidence of his talent and intentions, but the competition for any artist consists not only of people within his genre but also of the new techniques and ideas that other genres are introducing (which the public is aware of, even if an individual artist pretends not to be); and the question is, How does Broussard’s work hold its own with all else that is out there? That remains an open question.

Daniel Garrett, born in Louisiana and a longtime resident of New York, a graduate of the New School for Social Research, was an intern at Africa Report, poetry editor for the male feminist Changing Men, founded the Cultural Politics Discussion Group at ABC No Rio and Poets House, wrote about painter Henry Tanner for Art & Antiques, organized the first interdepartmental environmental justice meeting at Audubon, wrote about fiction and poetry for World Literature Today and international film for Offscreen, and has done music reviews that constitute a history of popular music for The Compulsive Reader. He has been working on a fiction project, A Stranger on Earth. Daniel Garrett’s web log at Blogger.com, focused on culture and society, is called “City and Country, Boy and Man.” His e-mail address is D.Garrett.Writer@gmail.com

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