Michael Brennan’s Casual Country Sundays

This week, singer/songwriter Michael Brennan celebrates 10 years of casual Sunday afternoon gigs at Graffiti’s Bar in Kensington Market. Last weekend, I dropped into the club and I have to say, it was one of the most authentic and satisfying live music experiences I’ve had in years!
As is their custom, Brennan and company occupied seats just inside the front door, no stage or barrier between them and the audience. The core duo of Brennan and guitarist Steve Briggs, front left, is augmented by whoever happens to be on hand that afternoon; last week it was mandolin player John Davis, back right, guitarist Colin Bradley, back left, and singer/percussionist Helen Stewart, who kept time on a beer box squeezed tightly between her knees.

Brennan has a strong, piercing voice that’s confident but not showy; I had the distinct sense that he’s a man doing exactly what he was born to do. His own original songs mixed easily with tunes by Johnny Cash, Johnny Rivers and Joe Maphis, among others.
“You get pretty comfortable after 10 years,” he concedes. “When I’m introducing a new song, especially if it’s one of my own, I’m always a little more on my toes, but the audience here is so forgiving that it’s really not much pressure.”
“Some of the people in the house are friends, others have become friends; there’s always some new faces, but it’s very comfortable and relaxed.”
Brennan has two solo CDs to his credit and a trio of band efforts with The Wayward Angels. During the week he’s a math teacher, a vocation he enjoys but not as much as singing and playing country tunes.
“This is my only local, regular gig,” he says of the Graffiti’s slot, “but I play three or four times per month elsewhere — at The Local, The Troubadour, Cadillac Lounge or the Gladstone. Since I started this 10 years ago it’s gotten easier; before that I was always in a full band and now things are a bit more flexible for me. I prefer the solo thing, it’s much more informal. We just do songs off the top of our heads, there’s no need for structure.”

Which is not to suggest that the music isn’t top-drawer; it is. But it’s also salt-of-the-earth and effortlessly folksy. After the band played a hurtin’ rendition of “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke,” Helen told a funny story about singing the tune — which is less than kind to the female antagonist — at a girlfriend’s wedding, years ago in Temagami. “She didn’t appreciate it,” offered the percussionist by way of a punch line. The audience howled with laughter.

This Sunday’s anniversary show is guaranteed to be a standing-room-only affair but if you enjoy roots music, whether it’s country, folk, bluegrass or rockabilly, definitely put this show on your list — you could hardly do better.
Christopher Jones, TO Live With Culture

Anywhere But Here Nominated for Country Recording of the Year by Music Nova Scotia.

Anywhere But Here named the #5 Canadian Country Album of 2008.
Country Music News, Ottawa, ON

"Anywhere But Here is the second album by Michael Brennan, a gifted singer-songwriter based in Toronto. His brand of urban-country is big on emotion, which he delivers in a voice which owes much to Roy Orbison and a little to Mavericks’ vocalist, Raul Malo. His songs, desperate vignettes, born on the wrong side of the tracks, walk ankle deep in every trouble known to man. If that all sounds a bit hopeless and forlorn, don’t worry. Brennan’s arrangements are considerably brighter than the stories he tells, and aided by Norah Jones guitarist Kevin Breit, he sets about his task with zeal. His “Mystery Train” is a percussive take on the rock n’ roll classic which features a great vocal and some very funky Hammond organ. “Troubled Mind” may linger on the darker side of life, but Brennan sings it like Johnny Cash fronting the Tennessee Three and behind him, the band play some dirty rock n’ roll like they’ve a point to make. Things get considerably more sedate on “Not Myself”, a Jimmie Dale Gilmore style weepie. The term “country rock” may cause more confusion than insight these days, but at the risk of driving a few people away, I’m happy to apply it to Anywhere But Here."
Leicesterbangs.co.ca United Kingdom

"Anywhere But Here is an album that sticks to your skin. Strongly recommended!"
Rootstime.be Belgium

Math teacher keeping his country in the city
By Greg Quill, The Toronto Star
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"An absolute must this album."
Moors Magazine, The Netherlands

"Anywhere But Here is another outstanding piece of work."
Country Music News, Ottawa, ON

Brennan captures city life and country roots on Anywhere But Here
By John Gillis, Inverness Oran
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"Bet your math teacher didn't sing this well. That may be Brennan's day job but the Cape Breton-raised, Toronto-based singer-songwriter is a committed and highly accomplished roots troubadour. He paid dues with his band the Wayward Angels and delivers his best work yet on Anywhere But Here, his second solo album...Brennan kicks things off by showing his roots on a spirited version of “Mystery Train” and closes the disc with a cover of Townes Van Zandt's “No Place To Fall.” The material in between is all original, and is quite diverse in tone. Brennan's songwriting is solid but it's his vocals that really capture the ear. His full-blooded, clear and passionate voice brings to mind the likes of Roy Orbison and Raul Malo (of the Mavericks) on such ballads as “Grow Old With Me” and “Everything Has Changed.” It's a voice you just believe and it brings credibility to songs that evoke a sense of restlessness and disquiet (song titles include “Troubled Mind,” “Everything Has Changed,” “Hung Out To Dry,” “Not Myself” and “Anywhere But Here.”). The latter song has the memorable lines of “My wish here in Parkdale is to be anywhere but here,” but we here in Parkdale are mighty glad to have Brennan around!"
Kerry Doole, exclaim!

“Overwhelmed! There is no better term. I am totally taken by this sensational new album by the Canadian Brennan...I do not have enough superlatives. Anywhere But Here is an album you are not allowed and don't want to miss!”
Rootsville.be Belgium

"They don't make ‘em like Michael Brennan any more! I've seen more than my share of artists at the Cadillac, but I've never seen it this crowded, or heard it rocked harder, than it was with Michael Brennan on stage. Brennan's an old-school country singer, but with MUCH better songs, and a deep, rumbling baritone voice. A one-time Maritimer, some of his songs are about the rootlessness of displaced folk, and the ambivalence they feel so far from home, be they now in Fort McMurray or Toronto...rough-edged, fiery country music, all in one of the best honkytonks in town."
Richaed Flohil

"Michael Brennan's new record Anywhere But Here contains authentic country roots songs, and with more than a hint of a personal history. The thematic threads unfold gradually over the 13 songs like multiple short stories - leaving economically depressed Cape Breton; goin'-down-the road to the greener pastures and economic opportunities in Ontario; returning home to face the loss of loved ones; and witnessing the further decay and deterioraton. Questions arise about identity and home. Brennan's powerful voice suits his strong writing. The record is well produced, with many interesting and subtle musical touches from multi-instrumentalist Kevin Breit."
Howard Gladstone, Executive Director-Toronto City Roots Festival

Brennan gets back to his roots
By Stephen Cooke, The Chronicle-Herald
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Michael Brennan takes part in ECMA's
Inverness Oran
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A 4 STAR RATING “…another ‘gotta-hear' artist. That name is Michael Brennan. His CD 'Cautious Man' contains eleven original tracks that are what country music is all about…he is a very gifted songwriter… His voice has been compared to Ketcham, Jennings, Neil Young and Orbison …But, Brennan’s voice is that and then some.”
Roots Music Report, Wimberley, Texas

"Cautious Man" - #12 on the FREEFORM AMERICAN ROOTS CHART, November, 2006
3rd Coast Music, San Antonio, Texas

"Cautious Man" - Album of the month pick, EURO AMERICANA CHART, November, 2006 www.euroamericanachart.nl The Netherlands

'"Cautious Man'...The eleven well-crafted originals cover the gamut of rock ‘n blues and country with stellar playing from Roly Platt (Matt Minglewood) on harp and John Adames on drums among others. The music is alt.country with production polished enough for mainstream radio...Great writing, great singing and fine musicianship.
Scene Magazine, London, ON

A 4 STAR RATING “…his music is genuine and unaffected and his album, while something of a sleeper, is as comfortable as an old shirt.”
3rd Coast Music, San Antonio, Texas

"...a very fine album... and a strong contender for 'album of the month'... everything works perfectly on 'Cautious Man'. There are no weak moments... and the whole album has a strong and solid sound whatnever the influences, from country to rock."
Massimo Ferro, www.highway61.it Italy

"...an excellent CD "Cautious Man". With this album Brennan succeeds in linking a commercial sound to songs with considerable depth. Quite an achievement. He presents himself as a marvellous (far above average) songwriter, who finds all the appropriate ingredients in genres such as country, blues & rock 'n' roll. Besides that he brings comparisations to icons such as Tony Joe White (also because of the beautiful harmonica contribution of Roly Platt, a rather swampy sounding titlesong "Cautious Man"), Waylon Jennings ("Lights of Town"), Jimmie Dale Gilmore ( with a slight vibrating voice on the more traditional country sounding "Dreams Always Lie") and Steve Earle (with the catchy country-rocker "Honky Tonkin' Two Bit Affair"). He seems to have much more in common with the average Texan countryrocker than with the general Canadian act. A delightful surpise of the kindest sort."
Benny Metten, www.ctrlaltcountry.nl Belgium

"Michael Brennan has made, with 'Cautious Man', a stellar album. One of the kind his American friends - within this genre - aren't nearly capable of making anymore. 11 outstanding songs, no glamour, no rural grit ......just somewhere in between, but very straight to the point. Country music at its purist, the way it was meant to be."
Rein van den Berg, www.realrootscafe.com
The Netherlands

"...strong, resonant voice and suburban, workaday lyrics... the album is ... reminiscent of Nick Lowe-deep, vibrant vocals hanging somewhere between a snarl and a croon, backed by upbeat, country infused pop rhythms. Solid listening for the adult contemporary set..."
The Chronicle Herald, Halifax, Nova Scotia

"...Pure honky-tonk happiness! ... Michael can write hurtin' mainstream country songs perfectly; good tunes, great hooks, interesting lyrics...His voice reminds me of John Stewart, who started out with the Kingston Trio, but the Cape Breton accent works perfectly with the twang. If you're gonna catch an artist like this - honest, straight-up workin' man music - you should see him in a place like the Cadillac."
Richard Flohil, Seen and Heard

"'Cautious Man' (is an) ...excellent album ...(Brennan's) a crafty writer; and he delivers the music with a bite and edge that is often missing in today's country recordings...Michael Brennan's vocal style can be likened to Hal Ketchum - there's a melodic swagger to the voice that carries a bit of extra mystery into each tune."
Country Music News

"A FIVE STAR RATING... Of all the CD's that Atlantic Seabreeze receives for review, there is always one CD that stands out once in awhile, and this CD,"Cautious Man", falls in this category."
Atlantic Seabreeze

"'Cautious Man', a fine collection of new originals."
Toronto Star

He's a family Man
Brennan's album reflects his new reality as husband, father
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Toronto Caper back in town
The Daily News (Halifax)
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"Brennan’s voice is one of the more genuine and intriguing to come along on the Canadian music scene in some time...you hear the touches of Neil Young, Waylon Jennings, Tony Joe White and Steve Earle in Brennan...it’s quite a mix and quite enjoyable."
Country Music News

"Toronto’s best kept roots-rock secret. Leaning towards Townes Van Zandt’s story-telling ability and Roy Orbison’s lonesome voice."

"Authentic roots and rockabilly from a man who lives it."
Michael Hollet's pick for NXNE - Now Magazine

“Brennan... gives his songs an emotional punch and elevate them above the banal platitudes of much current country music.”
Eye Magazine
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