Humor, Satire Fit Snugly on Comfort Quest

Humor, satire fit snugly on 'Comfort Quest'

ALBUM REVIEW: The album from Brian Hudson is a rare beast worth seeking out.

By: Tony Bennett, for the News Tribune

Sometimes you can glean a lot of information just from song or album titles.

This Brian Hudson guy, his album is called “Comfort Quest.” A few of the song titles on his record are as follows: “The Guy from Stories Read to Kids at Night,” “Where’s My Wallet,” and “Food Stamp Party.” Given this information, one of two things has to be true: 1.) Brian Hudson is funny, or 2.) Brian Hudson thinks that he’s funny.

Luckily, as the opening verse of “Modern Man” — the album’s opening gambit — unfurls, it seems as though the former is the case. We’re not talking funny ha-ha. We’re talking gallows humor, satire — more subtle sorts of stuff — which is a big relief.

Over a bed of thumping kick drum, acoustic guitar and violin, Hudson paints a picture of a guy jogging and checking out his neighbors as he does so. But the devil’s in the details.

“In the morning / I go running / to pacify my mind / I have to suffer / after waking / or I go crazy every time,” Hudson sings, his voice not dissimilar to Jeff Tweedy’s. “I have a neighbor / up the block / all alone, he sits outside / and sips a 40 / in the morning / I give a wave as I go by.”

The picture he paints is fragmented, not totally filled in. Why does he need to suffer? Why would he go crazy without the run? What’s up with that guy drinking the malt liquor? In this kind of songwriting, it’s not about the answers, but more about the questions. It’s not an incredibly common thing to be able to write seemingly innocuous lines that simultaneously reveal a darkness just below the surface.

And then the catchy chorus slides by, not too bombastically, and you realize this guy’s music is pretty all right. “I’m a modern man,” Hudson sings, “in my dreams I am in the country.”

The rest of the song continues in this vein; there’s talk of a dying grandmother, of bills that need paying. Hudson’s lamenting the mundanity of modern existence without calling it out. He’s just painting the picture.

“Money or Love” starts with some expertly fingerpicked, Elliott Smith-style acoustic guitar. Hudson sings about middle-class love, about jobs, and again about his morning run. (Definitely, this is the first album in history to mention jogging in more than one song, right?)

The waltzy “Emily” is a song directly addressed to the girl of the same name. Hudson promises her that he’ll make the money if she comes to Austin and moves in with him. “I’ll be the heart of your operation,” he promises, as piano tinkles in the air all around him. The only thing the song is missing is for the ending to reveal that Emily told him to buzz off, but it works fine as is.

The 10-song set moves along pretty quickly, without any real dead spots. When it threatens to get too maudlin or too straight, the songs sprout string sections or backing vocalists or guitar leads that keep things just off-kilter enough. And throughout, Hudson’s lyrics are dorky, honest, silly and never predictable. He’s not too far from a Loudon Wainwright III or a Harry Nilsson, really, only from a pleasant-indie perspective. His music could stand to be grittier at times and without some of the smooth Jack Johnson-isms that occasionally surface, but “Comfort Quest” is a rare beast worth seeking out.

 

Tony Bennett reviews music for the News Tribune. He can be reached at tonybennettreviews@gmail.com.

Tony Bennett