“I’ve already done four albums that inspire: it’s now time to offend,” says Canadian singer/songwriter Jon Brooks about his latest project — “The Smiling & Beautiful Countryside.” Produced and recorded live in the studio by David Travers-Smith, this Borealis Records release is a 10-track acoustic collection of mostly violent, rural crime stories. The long tradition of the murder ballad continues, with Brooks’ keen ear for disturbing lyrical detail.
“God made all men, Sam Colt made ‘em equal,” sings Brooks in rootsy “Gun Dealer,” with a rapid-fire delivery of a horrifically real list of what’s available over the counter to good and bad souls alike. At first “Queensville” seems like a harmless ditty cheerfully performed on a banjitar, but it slowly becomes Brooks’ recounting of an unsolved murder of a local girl, for which a man was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned, only to be later exonerated through DNA testing.
This Kerrville New Folk winner could fascinate the ambitious listener willing to research his abundant literary and footnoted references, but he’s best when he chills to the bone with directness in “Highway 16” — the making of a killer.
Brooks’ near 12-minute, ghastly Capote-like rampage, “The Only Good Thing Is An Old Dog,” gets into the twisted-logic head of a done-wrong employee gone postal. In his raw, hissing vocal style backed by a pulsing guitar, he becomes the killer and takes us hunting with him from room to room as he racks up the office death toll: “Now 58 dead #whoscounting?/59, 60, 61 in Accounting.” Brooks dares to be morosely dark, but does it with panache.
by Janet Goodman