By Kerry Doole
Those who like their folk sparse and laced with pointed social and political commentary should definitely check out this undervalued Toronto, ON singer-songwriter. Earlier albums, like his 2006 debut, No Mean City, and 2009’s Moth Nor Rust, hinted at a potential that’s fully realized on this fine release, Brooks’s fourth. His trademark powerful and often dark narratives are on vivid display, whether based on fact (the heartbreaking story of “The Lonesome Death of Aqsa Parvez”) or springing from his fertile imagination. The theme of cages pervades these songs, most strikingly in “Cage Fighter,” the tale of a child soldier turned Toronto gladiator. Offering respite from the intensity are such tender and pretty tunes as “Madeline” and the jaunty “Hudson Girl,” a number a bit reminiscent of Steve Earle. Effectively framing Brooks’s songs and gritty voice (which is sometimes evocative of John Prine) is a small cast of ace players: Joe Phillips, John Showman (New Country Rehab) and guitarist/co-producer Scott Dibble. Adding sweet vocals to “Fort McMurray” and “There Are Only Cages” are, respectively, Lynn Miles and Austinite Carrie Elkin, illustrating the peer respect Brooks deservedly enjoys. This is an excellent effort.