One thing that you can say for certain about Jim Brunberg is that he is a top-notch storyteller. What’s less predictable is the sort of melody that will accompany one of his stories. When you listen to his songs, sometimes you’ll hear a folky song with picking like you might hear in a Leo Kottke song. At other times, you’ll hear some soulful rock.
Brunberg’s new album Songs of Stupid Hope is his first solo album in 15 years. COVID-19 forced him to take a break from Wonderly with Ben Landsverk. With independent music venues struggling through the pandemic, he became something of an activist to help those venues remain open. That activism re-ignited his desire to perform, and he found himself using his time to write the songs on this album.
The album opens with the “Easter Morn,” a folky song whose melody is carried by acoustic guitar. It also features some backing vocals similar to a church choir, which fits with the title of the song. Perhaps the best line of this short song is, “It doesn’t really matter what you do today. Tomorrow you’re reborn like Easter Sunday.” It seems like the sort of message that is born from an experience like the last few years, where you can never be sure what’s coming next.
As he has done on previous albums, Brunberg embraces the Muscle Shoals sound of soulful rock. “Aftertimes” is a good example. This song is propelled by a groovy shuffle beat. Then you hear the warm organ, the backing vocals, and the horns, and you can’t help but think of groups like Tedeschi Trucks. It’s just one of those songs that fills you with pleasant vibes.
Something about Brunberg’s style is reminiscent of Freedy Johnston. It’s a style that’s not easy to pin down, but easygoing and groovy with a focus on lyrics to paint a vivid picture for the listener. “Mr. Clay” is just one of those stories that catches and holds your attention. With pedal steel and mandolin, this one is a lot more country than other songs on the album. It tells the story of a teacher who left school one day because he had a heart attack. The details (like the cussing jar in his classroom and the fact that his students are always on their phones) paint a picture so vivid that the listener has no trouble envisioning it.
Songs of Stupid Hope by Jim Brunberg is a lot of things. It is a master class in songwriting. It is an unpredictable musical ride with a blend of country, rock, and soul. Most of all, it is something of a salve for the soul. After three years of unpredictability and varying degrees of anxiety, this is quite simply a collection of easygoing enjoyable songs that can give you an escape from the world, however brief. The album will be available everywhere on January 13.