(Self-released, CD, digital download)
Nearly every young artist, regardless of his or her chosen medium, fails. Stephen King's debut novel, Carrie, was rejected more than 30 times, finally causing him to throw it away in frustration. Only after his wife found it in the trash and encouraged him to rework it did Carrie become a landmark novel, its author the Master of Horror. Speaking of kings, a young Elvis Presley was fired from the Grand Ole Opry after one performance and told to "go back to drivin' a truck." He ended up doing OK, if memory serves. So failure is not an artistic death sentence. In fact, trying and failing often teaches the lessons most critical to artistic growth. These are lessons Louie Brown would do well to remember as he continues to pursue his musical dreams.
Brown's debut record, Rise Up, is, to put it bluntly, not that good. It's not for lack of trying — if anything, the young local songwriter seems to try too hard. But this collection of 10 original songs largely fails to connect. Brown's writing, rooted in the well-traveled folk pathways of populist uprising, environmentalism and love, both lost and found, is well intentioned but offers little insight beyond the obvious. (To paraphrase: Love hurts. Corporations suck. Let's save the world, gang!) Perhaps at a tender 20 years of age, he hasn't yet acquired the depth of experience to express those sentiments any other way. Songs such as "Modern Day Slavery" and "Mother Nature Bleeds" contain all the nuance that their titles imply.
More likely is that Brown simply has to discover and nurture his own voice — and Rise Up hints that a unique talent lurks.
Brown does not have an especially pretty singing voice. But then, neither does, say, Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen. Like those singers, Brown has a distinctive, hard-featured timbre. He just hasn't figured out how best to deploy it.
That issue parallels his writing, which in moments teases an idiosyncratic perspective. On "Self-Confidence," for example, he writes, "I lack self-confidence / I am sick of all this / I know it's not beneficial for me to think this way." It's not the most poetic turn, but there is an honest appeal in his clunky phrasing that says more about the songwriter Brown could become than do the paint-by-numbers rhyme schemes on much of the album. It shows he's not afraid to take a risk. That manifests, too, in some of Brown's curious arrangement choices — such as the vocal percussion later in the record. It doesn't always work, but there's value just in trying something new.
Rise Up, like so many debut albums before it, is long on passion but short on insight and execution. Still, Louie Brown is a singular artist fighting to find his way. With a little time, patience and hard work, the guess here is that he will.
Rise Up by Louie Brown is available at louiebrownmusic.com.