The trajectory of Louisiana’s Marc Broussard music has been similar to that of the FOX and CW networks programming, starting his output with art undeniably rooted in Black aesthetic traditions but steadily abandoning this approach as his popularity increased, resulting in more and more sanitized material and approaches to appeal to a broader audience. Well, this self-titled project represents the apex of this transition from Louisiana swamp blues and hard-nosed soul to near pristine pop rock (one can credibly argue that rock is also a Black aesthetic tradition, but rest assured this isn’t classic rock). Marc Broussard’s Marc Broussard is done with great precision and he does deign to enter bluesy soul territory here and there, as with “Eye on the Prize,” but the reach for cross-over appeal is undeniable on this AAA project. It’s difficult to watch the more tepid folk-singer Amos Lee out soul Broussard, the man who once titled an album S.O.S: Save Our Soul, in his own territory.
The skillful Mr. Broussard is a polished musician and everything here is pristinely delivered. Not a hair out of place. Still, decades of exceptionally singing blues and soul can’t be scrubbed from the Cajun’s tone’s resonance or the occasional rifts that sneak in through the backdoor. If this album were Broussard’s debut, one would never know that Broussard has been one of the most solidly consistent blue-eyed soul presences in the industry for the last decade. Songs like “Let It All Out” and “Our Big Mistake” are clean, well-constructed pop ballads that resemble watered-down country sans the twang. In a few bars of subtly arranged chord changes and its closing choral build, “Let Me Do It Over” has shades of the more emotionally sincere songs like “Another Night Alone” and the stellar “Saying I Love You” from 2008’s Keep Coming Back. The thump of the Motown backbeat and the big band horns on “Lucky,” the project’s big midtempo number, are mixed in ways that steal their sonic drive and propulsion. Similarly, “Everything” comes across as what one believes a rock singer thinks Motown soul sounds like, throwing in a little tambourine and a percussive bridge -- but Broussard knows better. The radio-ready “Stay With Me” is at least honest in its straight ahead rock pop intentions and is a fine example of that genre at its more adeptly executed.
There are moments that keep the album from completely selling out Broussard’s roots. The lyrical heft of “Yes, Man,” the jazz light melody of its hook, and the playful whistling reminds us just how good a constructionist Broussard is as a writer and arranger. Chad Gilmore’s drums and the quartet of electric guitars by Tom Bukovac, Chris Graffagino, Gary Burnette, and Akil Thompson keep a strong toehold in the blues throughout “Eye on the Prize,” helping to maintain a rootsy feel in a clearly modern jam. Broussard teases a bit by including an acoustic demo of such utter country soul perfection “Come Home” at the end of “Let Me Do It Over,” where he even briefly scats at the end to remind long-time fans of what they are missing. A piano ballad demo of “Let Me Do It Over” also proves to be the album’s most poignant performance, and yet even here Broussard is restrained in ways that are bewildering.
Witnessing an artist whose soul wails and tough-hearted pleading in “Let Me Leave” from 2004’s Carencro or the self-titled track from his 2002 debut, Momentary Setback, could move listeners literally to tears, perform here as a dressed-up version of his former self is painful to witness. This is a Southern white man who covered Hathaway, Green, and Redding in 2007’s Save Our Soul without sounding like a pretender or an appropriator. What made Broussard unique - the raw vulnerability, devastating range, rough edges of his baritone, and lyrical honesty - has all been stripped down to a fine musician with solid songs who sadly sounds just like everyone else on AAA radio today. Moderately Recommended.
By L. Michael Gipson