This is certainly no typical singer-songwriter release, as Toronto-based Brooks has one ambitious concept in mind. In his own words, No Mean City bears witness and indictment to the modern urban disaster as seen through Toronto’s example. A well-travelled troubadour (formerly leader of the Norge Union), Brooks had planned to write a novel about the city before deciding on a musical forum for his thoughts. The result is a highly literate, musically sparse work of true grit. Some tracks are totally solo – with Brooks supplying guitar, harmonica and harmonium – while others have subtle contributions from the likes of James Gray (Blue Rodeo), Dan MacDonald, and multi instrumentalist/producer Pat Simmonds. The city Brooks knows is not that of the martini-sippers at the Drake or yuppies buying lofts, but he knows the streets walked by the downtrodden very well. The pawnshops on Church, the all-night coffee shops on Parliament, the cheap rooming houses – these are his characters, and he evokes them with real skill. “No Good” is a fine example: “Another dollar store toy drags tired mom and boy home under the flood of Parkdale’s red setting sun.” Over the course of its hour length, No Mean City and its pervasive bleakness can become hard work, but Brooks deserves credit for his bold ambition.