The career of a singer-songwriter can be unforgiving. The spectrum of challenges ranges from developing a unique voice in an overcrowded genre to hauling gear from bookshop to coffeehouse, holding out for tip-jar coinage. Seasoned local troubadour Josh Brooks knows this lifestyle well. He's spent the past decade amassing a small but loyal following with his guitar, harmonica and wasp-stung pipes.
With two solid records to his name, Brooks found his creative wellspring all but dry in 2003. Overwhelmed by a full-time job, graduate school and a burgeoning family, he had little time to follow his musical muse. But a chance gig in 2006 re-ignited his songwriting spark, and he began working on his third full-length album.
As of early 2007, it's not quite finished. To tide fans over, Brooks has released a five-song EP called The White House Sessions. The disc collects a handful of demo tracks recorded a few years back. Despite their humble origins, the tunes have a warmer, more fleshed-out sound than did his previous efforts.
Brooks addresses both personal and universal themes with emotional authenticity. His affinity for Americana titans such as Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark is evident throughout the recording.
Opener "I'm Going to Texas" recalls the raucous side of Johnny Cash - all galloping drums and frenetic guitar strums. Brooks' frustrations are readily apparent as he belts the lines "Never seen much more of Austin than what fits on my screen," and "I've been stuck in these Green Mountains where the sun don't shine."
The ups and downs of domestic life - which Brooks alludes to in four of the five songs here - provide great songwriting fodder. But I can't help thinking these tunes would be more effective sprinkled throughout a full-length.
The melancholy "Shadow Where I Stand" is about balancing musical passion with the responsibilities of family. The strain is evident in Brooks' intimate lyrics: "Mama feels that kicking in her belly like a mule / And in all her dreams it's me that's written 'Folsom Prison Blues,'" he sings.
"'Til the End of Time" evokes the comforting warmth of a solid relationship, but the vocal melody is a little too close to The Band's classic cut "The Weight."
Brooks remains a valuable fixture in a scene swarming with lesser talents. Be sure to toss a little something in the jar when he swings by the Langdon Street Café on Thursday, January 25.