Rating: 3 1/2 stars (out of 4)
Twelve songs – originals except for World War I Canadian veteran Frank Dixon’s poem “Cigarettes”, which Brooks’ has put to music – examine the Canadian experience of war from 1914 to the present through the eyes of characters that inhabit this gifted Toronto singer-songwriter’s imagination, or are drawn from published accounts in newspapers and journals. Though Brooks’ evocative work chronicles emotional, spiritual and corporal pain, it is neither a cry of protest nor saccharine patriotic hoopla. Apparently inspired by a trip to Bosnia in the aftermath of the civil war there, these songs are chapters in a classic musical version of ‘Dispatches’, a series of dispassionate and unconnected snapshots of the Canadian warrior psyche – if there is such a thing – under pressure, and compelling tales of those at home who are left to ponder the consequences of war. Brooks’ is an exceptional acoustic guitarist, and co-producer Pat Simmonds – a ubiquitous expat New Zealand folk artist who is known for his work in the Celtic music arena – has deftly captured both the power and compassion in Brooks’ big voice and the fascinating subtleties of his guitar technique.
Top Track: “Hill 677” – for the constant, harrowing question in the chorus “Whose fault is it?”