Brennan gets back to his roots
IT'S ALWAYS A TREAT to have Nova Scotia native Michael Brennan back in town.
A pioneer of the early independent music years in Halifax with his band the Lone Stars, Brennan has been in Toronto for over 15 years, performing with his band the Wayward Angels and building a reputation as one of the city's finest country-influenced singer-songwriters.
At the moment he's enjoying a family vacation in Cape Breton, but it becomes a working vacation starting on Wednesday night at Tribeca in Halifax at 8 p.m., followed by evening shows on Thursday at The Red Shoe in Mabou and Friday at the Inverness Arts Centre.
Reached by phone in his home town of Inverness, Brennan is still aglow after playing a few songs the night before at the Fisherman's Picnic with bassist brother Tim Brennan, formerly of the Lone Stars and, more recently, Joel Plaskett Emergency.
"It's great to have Tim up here for part of the summer," he says. "But he's not playing much anymore; doing five songs at the picnic once a year is about all the playing we do together."
For his upcoming dates, Brennan is bringing in guitarist Steve Briggs, who also performs with Prairie Oyster's Russell deCarle. He looks forward to having his friend along for a few dates, to reconnect with the East Coast crowd.
"It's a different kind of audience, a different kind of people down here. It's good for me to get away from that Toronto attitude, uptight and fast paced, work work work. You don't get that too much here, especially in the summer."
Heading home for a few weeks in the summer also gives Brennan a chance to get some musical inspiration; the song Spiritual Advice from his most recent CD Cautious Man was written during one such getaway to his Inverness cabin. But he says he's the sort of performer who has to take the inspiration as it comes, and can't always expect it to appear at will.
"I love to sing, and I love to sing in front of an audience. That really is it," he says of the desire that drives him to make music. "Luckily, I also like to write songs, but that really is secondary to performing. I enjoy writing, but it can be a real task, until you get another good idea. I'm always trying to keep at it, but it's a job to write songs, and I admire these people who can write so many in a year. It just seems to flow from them.
"I'll always love singing. There have been a couple of periods in my life when I tried to stop, but I just couldn't."
Even while holding down a day job, Brennan tries to get on stage as much as possible, with a regular gig at Grafitti's in Kensington Market for the past seven years, plus appearances at venues like Hugh's Room, the Now Lounge, the Cadillac Lounge, and occasionally outside Toronto, around the Golden Horseshoe.
"Toronto still has quite a good roots music scene, from country to rockabilly to singer-songwriter stuff like Justin Rutledge and Serena Ryder. All the offspring of Handsome Ned," he chuckles, mentioning the Canadian alt-country icon who died in 1987.
"They just did a big tribute night to Handsome Ned at the Horseshoe Tavern, for the 20th anniversary of his death. I was supposed to take part in that, but it turned out I couldn't make it. I think they're going to reissue his music on CD as well."
You can hear samples of Brennan's music on his website, at , from the Cautious Man CD, which received airplay across the U.S. and in Europe, as well as far flung places like Uruguay and Australia. This fall, he starts work on a follow-up, with producer David Travers-Smith, who's recorded with acclaimed artists like Jenny Whiteley and the Wailin' Jennys.
But right now he's focusing on next week's shows, and who knows? There might still be a few Lone Stars fans in the crowd.
"About four years ago, someone asked me for Dying Town, that was the last time. And I did it, although I have no idea how I remembered the song, but I was glad I could do it. It's always nice to know that the Lone Stars' name still rings a bell with people."