The Red Dirt Report Oklahoma City, OK

CD REVIEW: Jon Brooks – Delicate Cages (independent) 2011 

For those of living south of the Canadian border, the name Jon Brooks probably doesn’t ring any bells. 

And that’s too bad. Until recently I counted myself among those many millions. But now, having had time to devote to listen and absorb the 11 beautiful songs on Delicate Cages, I have come away … I don’t know … changed, perhaps? 

These heartfelt tracks – which included “Because We’re Free” and a reprise of the same song – our portraits of the state of the human condition and the murky nature of politics and how people are affected, “cages,” if you will. It’s these “cages” that we either put ourselves in or find ourselves in that Brooks focuses upon which gives the album the emotional depth that makes it so powerful. 

Brooks takes the album title Delicate Cages from a poem by Robert Bly called Taking The Hands – “Taking the hands of someone you love / You see they are like delicate cages” 

Clearly inspired by everyone from Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan to fellow Canadian Bruce Cockburn, Brooks focuses on “faith and free will” on Because We’re Free.” 

Gamely playing a “banjitar” and getting backing vocal assistance from Lynn Miles, Brooks tackles “Fort McMurray,” a song about a love in the midst of the Athabasca Oil Sands and boomtown of Fort McMurray, Alberta. The imagery of “silver spires breathin’ in and blowing out a cat piss wind” is something folks here in energy-producing Oklahoma can probably relate to. 

Reminding me a bit of Iowa folk singer Greg Brown, with his gritty voice, Brooks sings about “Mercy,” which he admires more than even a melody. Having spent time in the late 1990’s witnessing the devastation in war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brooks would recognize the importance of mercy in a hard-bitten world. 

The French folk music I grew familiar with – Cajun and zydeco – while living in Louisiana, can be linked to French-speaking Canada and Quebec, which is what Brooks offers us on the engaging and melodic “Hudson Girl,” a true highlight on this collection. 

What folk singer doesn’t love a song about a boxer – a pugilist – (Paul Simon, anyone?) and Jon Brooks gives us a modern take on that with “Cage Fighter” about a fighter named “The Sarajevo Sandman.” Brooks paints a musical picture, describing the “battery acid smell in my throat / It was the small of adrenaline” and ultimately the “lights out kick to the head” that takes him out. That bowed bass, played by Joe Phillips, adds to the stark, percussive eeriness of the song. 

And like “Cage Fighter,” we get a folk song about the “Son of Hamas,” a political song – and a cry for love and understanding – presented in a way that brought to mind the aforementioned folk king of Canada, Bruce Cockburn. 

Sings Brooks: “How can we hear amid deafening times, love whisper the truth?” Indeed, sir. 

Those people on the fringes get attention from Jon Brooks, as we hear on his nearly two-decade old song “Visiting Day,” a more serious and melancholic take on the “outlaw” subject matter tackled by the Steve Miller Band on “Take the Money and Run” all those years ago. 

And torn from the headlines and deliberately presented in the style of Bob Dylan’s “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” this simply called “The Lonesome Death of Aqsa Parvez,” Brooks tells the chilling story of a Pakistani-Canadian girl who was murdered in a Toronto suburb in 2007 – an “honor killing” – by her cab-driver father and her brother. Both would be convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Oh, and what was Aqsa Parvez’s “crime”? The beautiful teenager refused to wear a hijab covering as required in some corners of Islamic society. The father and brother agreed the girl had dishonored the family by daring to disobey. I applaud Brooks for telling her story. 

Delicate Cages is one of those albums that stays with you long after you put the disc back in the sleeve. Jon Brooks is clearly a caring, empathetic person who uses his songwriting talents to share stories we might otherwise not hear. 

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Copyright 2012 West Marie Media 

February, 2012