The softened tempered majesty of a bull bison resting within it's 2 dimensional conte chalk background is the simplest explanatory imagery within which we find the heavy brooding vocal release of Brook Blanche. Brook has long been the mainstay anchor point of the cult like following of The Calamity Cubes!, a Kansas based roots band, with other members Kody Oh, and Joey Henry. The Cubes play a very original style of music, hard driving banjo, upright bass, and acoustic guitar make up the instrumentation. The music would best be classified and a blend of traditional Country, Folk & Bluegrass, with the fire of an 80's Punk Band. They take heartache and pain seriously, you can hear it in many of their tracks, soaked in misery and whiskey, the Cubes! always deliver a song for any emotion.
As with any group projects of the musical sort, there is always a introspective period of growth which inevitably forces all artists regardless of experience or level of talent to explore unchartered territory and choose to walk newer and dimly lit path alone, and seek the truths within. As with The Calamity Cubes!, the time has risen to the surface in a right of passage for all concerned that each member must look within themselves and seek the origins of their talent and challenge their limitations of personal growth. It is at this crossroads where we come to see Brook Blanche, a large hulking presence of gentle candor and melodic harmony resting as the bison in the grasses observing the passersby.
The bison is an accurate primal portrayal of Blanche, the soft and mottled unkempt appearance - the sharpened horns and wary eyes of the beast; giving way in an unexpected beauty of song and majesty of movement which flows centrally through the heart and soul. Brook is nothing short of a very intimidating presence with a large frame, deep booming baritone voice and a gravely southern drawl that is hungrily what any true roots artists thirsts for - beneath it all there is the "gentleness" and youthful nature of the truest beauty that is that of a child who is doing what they hold most closely to their heart. Within the liner notes we see two small gleaming examples of this side of the man
". . .without you, this couldn't have happened. Without you coming to shows and giving support in all the ways you do, I would never have had the courage or the means to make this album. I hope you find something in these songs that can help you even a fraction as much as you've helped me".
It's in the words above the we see Blanche is not a man without his struggles and metaphorical bumps within his travels, it is important to recognize that below the iron defenses of the bison adult, beats the heart of the "one day" youth - within the youth we understand risk, chance, possibility, action without consequence and the elemental components of joy at it's core. With this album Brook Blanche, is making a connection to all those points below his surface and inviting us to search within ourselves so we may enjoy the same textures, colors and tones. At the root and blooming as it's essence, Blanche is no stranger to the concept of loving those around him and it's through this that I believe the album is so successful in reaching out to all listeners regardless of genre preference. Much the same of what has been a mainstay in The Calamity Cubes!, has made a reconnection here and amplified the communicative emotional nerves within us to answer back that we believe as he does that music starts and ends with the heart and therein - love.
With the opening of the CD we are introduced to the fragile baritone of Brook Blanche, the opening words ". . .there's fools on their barstools" seems to provide a steady warming wind beneath our wings as we take effortless flight with this giant man and his well worn guitar. Like his pioneering forefathers, Blanche's vocal range is nothing short of mind blowing, his peaks and valleys with complimentary range and dexterity are those that we rarely find except from the great's like Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. With ear chord strung, Blanche matches with perfection the accompanying tone and elevates his successive range to build sequentially from one stanza to the next.
Like two lovers lost in a sea of miscommunication, Blanche reaches through the mist and murk in search of his second to explain his lack of understanding "your side". The old time fiddle rag of "Your Side" is the pure essence of the country gentleman and the gravely vocals of Brook are what bring us continually back to the perfect marriage between instrument and songwriter / vocalist.
Picking at his guitar strings, them snapping gently with the characteristic plucking and click, begins the third track "Enough"; in this expose Blanche seems the wounded beast with a heart pulsing its last beats within a chest wall heavy laden with regret. As simple as this song is in its point of origin and as the song says "I give a little, but I take a lot. . .you give me everything you've got", there is an unquenchable thirst here for acceptance and yet from such an immovable object there is a gentle openness and unmistakable vulnerability at the core. Tempered in every word and wounded by each tear stained note Blanche pours himself into his vocal frustrations; ". . .I tried to love you and tried to leave, you asked me what I need. You know everything that you do could never be enough for me".
There is such a beautiful majesty about men like Brook Blanche and their talents among us; perhaps it is that reason simply that they are such a vocal and musical rarity. It's men like Brook Blanche, who remind us what it is to be true to ourselves, to never waver from our convictions and morals, to remain pure in our ethics and to put effort into each duty whether fraught with disaster or rich with success - the effort must never be vacant. The music of Brook Blanche is that of the heart being co-mingled with the soul, this is not music that has been white washed with censorship and flavored artificially; this is music as pure as the rain from heaven and the dew that clings to a blade of grass on an early Tennessee morning. Brook Blanche is the real article and there are few among us that can fill his shoes nor should they. Treasures are meant to be enjoyed in the time we have and passed along as mementos to our contemporaries - remember Brook Blanche and his journey the next time you are recommending music to a colleague. Send them down the path less travelled and be there for them when they stumble; pick them up when they fall and remember that even the mighty among us have fallen but in doing so great music is the resultant remedy to heal the wounds.
Beneath the mighty exterior of a giant - beats the vulnerable heart. . .