Tom Brosseau is a folk troubadour in the most traditional sense, and he’s been busy in the past few years recording with Angel Correa as the Shelleys, or playing and recording with John C. Reilly and others. But it’s been almost five years since his last solo record, Posthumous Success, and Grass Punks is an excellent return. It hearkens back to the more stripped-down compositions of 2007’s Cavalier, and the intimate tunes Brosseau crafted with collaborator Sean Watkins this time strike an impressive chord.
Known mainly for his song “How To Grow a Woman From the Ground,” a tune famously covered by Chris Thiele, Tom Brousseau is a modern folkie with an upbeat attitude and a decidedly unassuming style. It’s appropriate then that his latest album, Grass Punks, shows him operating in a stripped down setting, recording at home in an acoustic format with the sole accompaniment of Sean Watkins, who is, ironically, Thiele’s colleague in Nickel Creek. Despite the austere settings, these nine songs retain their spunk and rhythm, thanks to the rhythm and roll that enlivens “Cradle Your Device” and the sprightly sound of “Love High John the Conqueror Root.
Tom Brosseau revels in simplicity on “Grass Punks,” the folk singer’s seventh studio release. Except for rare exceptions like the mandolin on “Gregory Page of San Diego” and the light electric guitar that lines “Today Is a Bright New Day,” the songs are limited to two acoustics and his voice, and sometimes not even that; the short, single-guitar instrumental “Green Shampoo” could serve as a practice exercise within the grasp of a novice picker. Combined with a voice built around a soft smile (even when singing about the fracturing of human connection, as on “Cradle Your Device”), it should provide a clarity that concentrates the songs’ power, but the catch is that there isn't really much of the latter to speak of.