Since making his debut in 2004, Brett Dennen‘s amiable folk-pop has earned him a loyal following and placed him among some of the previous decade’s more prominent contemporary pop troubadours, from Jason Mraz to Ray LaMontagne. While he hasn’t quite enjoyed the success of those acts, it’s certainly not for lack of trying. His wealth of hooky melodies and thoughtful acoustic musings has been spread out over five strong releases and his almost John Denver-like aura of sincerity gives him an approachable allure. On Por Favor, the singer’s sixth effort, he strips his music down to the barest essentials to create what is easily his most vulnerable and intimate album.
Admittedly worn thin by a relationship on the rocks, family trouble, and a health scare, this is a Dennen we’ve never heard, with a noticeably frayed spirit and a searching heart. The feeling of heightened sensitivity and the minimalist production from Nashville’s Dave Cobb (Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell) gives Por Favor more of an organic and timeless feeling than any of Dennen‘s prior work, and his quavering high tenor has never sounded so appropriate to the material.
But even in his darkest hours, Dennen‘s breezy style and humble demeanor make him come off like a fallen optimist trying to retune his antenna sunward. Light tones of calypso and reggae color tracks like «What’s the Secret?» and «Stand Up for It,» and the rhythm section of drummer Chris Powell and bassist Brian Allen pepper the tunes with a roomy, off-the-cuff vibe.
On his sunnier moments, Dennen evokes the loose, rootsy vibe of American Beauty-era Grateful Dead, and there’s even a reference to Jerry Garcia on the hushed standout «Strawberry Road.» Recorded in just a couple of weeks at Cobb‘s all-analog Nashville studio, the performances are loose and honest, with tape hiss filling the gaps between chords on quieter tunes like «Where We Left Off» and the bittersweet closer «I’ll Be on Your Side.» As both a writer and a singer, Dennen has never sounded so fragile and unpolished and it’s a perfect fit for this fantastic group of songs.