The release of Richard Brisbois' debut solo album Anytime You Think About Her marks a creative leap forward for an artist who's been making music in bands for many years, firmly establishing him as a singer-songwriter to watch.
The album, mostly performed by Brisbois, with vocal accompaniment by Chelsea Carothers on the plaintive "Perfect Black Dress" and production help by his longtime musical compadre Mike Strassburger, is deceptively lo-fi considering the many well placed and interesting sounds layered throughout. The acoustic, chill electric, slide and bass guitars, keys, mandolin, light drums and percussion, ambient sounds and sing-along melodicsm bring to mind the best of early REM and Wilco.
Beginning with his early band The Buckets and on to his exceptional '90s powerhouse rock band 4 Hr. Ramona, and to his more recent one-off tracks offered via the socials, there is a breadth and depth to Brisbois's songwriting that comes into sharp focus with Anytime You Think About Her.
The songs offered here tend toward the slow burn, drawing us to an inner world, each revealing themselves as if the listener were turning pages in a journal. These songs are reflective without being tortured; we all hurt at times, sometimes seemingly all the time. Brisbois admits this, as a matter of fact and gently without coddling us. By the album's midpoint we're sitting comfortably with him, a passenger, but not a passive one, as he takes us down the road thinking about the loves he's had, and lost, with the help of The Bard himself. Brisbois puts one of Shakespeare's most famous sonnets to song in his musical rendition of "Sonnet 18." He turns it into a PJ Harveyesque chant with a melodic progression featuring soft organ and manipulated sounds, a sonic pillow in which to lay down our heads and contemplate our own lost loves.
"Sonnet 18 came to me in the span of a handful of minutes. I was trying to memorize the words as a brain exercise, and wasn’t making any progress. It occurred to me that I never forget the lyrics to a song once I learn them, so I thought I’d put it to music. Five minutes later I was staring down at the guitar in my hands and shaking my head in bemused wonder. It didn’t hurt that the poetry was pretty first rate. He’s no Usher, but Shakespeare can spit some rhymes."
Over the years it seems that Seattle songwriters have matured. They have learned how to self-soothe, calmly reflect on heartache, disappointment and soul-crushing sadness, and come out the other side all right. This speaks to how at ease Brisbois is at contemplating the complexities of the human heart, love, and letting go… “anytime you think about her, you have to tell yourself no...”. How do we let go?
For all the deep feelings and somber moods that Brisbois summons on his excellent debut solo album, in the end we are left feeling uplifted, inspired by his undeniable musical hooks and ultimately by a sense of optimism that pervades his music. This songwriter feels alright, and so do we.