Carl Broemel sits at the far end of a long, brown leather couch. A huge expanse lies to his right. There, you expect to find his fellow band mates from My Morning Jacket, with whom he developed a reputation as one of the preeminent guitar players of his generation. Instead, Broemel’s solitary figure merges into the no-frills space, and his solemn face evokes the impression of a man who has quietly become more self-assured in his work. More confident with his art and place in music, where he can stand alone.
The genesis of Broemel has not been instantaneous but a gradual, incremental process. Anyone who has followed Broemel’s career – solo or with My Morning Jacket – will agree that only at the turn of the decade has Broemel let loose and embraced the idea he is a star. Being invited to play with Neil Young, Roger Waters, and Ray Lamontagne certainly has helped, but his sophomore album, 2010’s All Birds Say, was a turning point. The album showcased a side most had not witnessed before – thoughtful and introspective and an artist who was equal parts musician and composer. With his third album, 4th of July, Broemel has taken a giant leap to forging his own identity as a singer-songwriter and storyteller.
4th of July is a stunning record – or more accurately, a beautiful compilation of short stories. The bubbly, “Sleepy Lagoon”, for instance, is a romantic take of the weary traveler. The use of allegory is clearly apparent (Hello Moon, I’m going to kiss you. Hello Sleepy Lagoon, I’m going to swim in you), but the addition of the chirping birds at the song’s end is clever to represent the coming of morning. “Rockingchair Dancer” is a serene, reflective song, as Broemel recounts the dreams of a person when he was younger and his desires to be a child again. The lyrics on this song are superb.
“Snowflake” is a light love ballad that echoes ’80s soft rock. Broemel’s vocals on this track are warm and memorable, but the song’s percussion-heavy ending steals the show. The delicate throbbing of the drums and slight strums of the electric guitar replicate the fluttering and accelerating heartbeat that comes when one is in love. But for every blissful event, there is a story of a person living in solitude and searching for his happy ending. “In the Dark” offers that counterbalance. Although the song’s folk-pop approach is peaceful and quietly infectious, Broemel weaves a powerful tale of a person trying to find meaning in his life.
The album’s highlight, though, is the title track. “4th of July” is a slow burning epic that resonates some of My Morning Jacket’s bestburners. This brilliant song about the unending search for love and a confused heart starts off like a lush lullaby before it turns into a monster of a track. The song unveils the Carl Broemel that My Morning Jacket fans know, where the man affectionately known as Snowy unleashes some fiery guitar work.
4th of July, however, is quintessential Carl Broemel. Like the man, the album is intelligent and considerate. Every lyric and note has been attended with the meticulous precision. The stories, though, are clearly the fireworks of the record. Like his idol Neil Young, the songs are introspective and personal, yet the tales are ones to which we all can relate. These are not Broemel’s stories; they are ours. Maybe that explains why there is a vast space next to Broemel in his press photo – he has made room for us to join him on his journey to songwriting stardom.
Broemel has completed a handful of shows in Tennessee and Kentucky. He will be back on the road in October with David Simonett of Trampled by Turtles. Tour dates are on his website.
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