Josh Brooks
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Josh Brooks

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Josh Brooks is that rare exception that proves the rule. From somewhere like the desolate locale of a tiny white house with an overgrown lawn, Brooks' White House Sessions arrives - a self-produced EP released as a primer for an official release. In fact, fans who purchase this CDR version will be helping pay for the finalized version and will be able to exchange it for a copy of the final album upon release.

Brooks is a gifted songwriter with an old soul perspective one can't help but listen to over and over again. Although based in Vermont, he sounds like the sort you might find strumming away in a Southern hole in the wall on a Wednesday night - the unexpected highlight of a long week. But the singer proudly shows that states don't make the songwriter. In "I'm Going To Texas," he playfully sings, "Never been to Amarillo; never been to Abilene / Never seen much more of Austin than what fits my TV screen ... I'm going to Texas / Oh Lord, before I die."

While songs like "Baby, Let's Drop It" tread familiar ground, the sincere timbre and drifting cadence Brook delivers makes the song distinctly original. "'Til The End Of Time" comes close to overt sentimentality, while "Alive" is an aptly-named number with a driving rhythm that accentuates the lyrics, describing a cross-country trip. If Brooks is guilty of any mishandling, it might be name-dropping Johnny Cash a bit too often, but who can really blame him for paying tribute to the late legend?

For all its small town, homegrown atmosphere, it's surprising that rural New England hasn't produced a greater country scene. It may be inclement weather that makes the Northeast more inclined to folk or rock music, but who's to say the next big Nashville won't be somewhere in the snowy avenues of Vermont? And if so, Josh Brooks might just be its Johnny Cash.

-Len Sousa

- Northeast Performer


The career of a singer-songwriter can be unforgiving. The spectrum of challenges ranges from developing a unique voice in an overcrowded genre to hauling gear from bookshop to coffeehouse, holding out for tip-jar coinage. Seasoned local troubadour Josh Brooks knows this lifestyle well. He’s spent the past decade amassing a small but loyal following with his guitar, harmonica and wasp-stung pipes. With two solid records to his name, Brooks found his creative wellspring all but dry in 2003. Overwhelmed by a full-time job, graduate school and a burgeoning family, he had little time to follow his musical muse. But a chance gig in 2006 re-ignited his songwriting spark, and he began working on his third full-length album.

As of early 2007, it’s not quite finished. To tide fans over, Brooks has released a five-song EP called The White House Sessions. The disc collects a handful of demo tracks recorded a few years back. Despite their humble origins, the tunes have a warmer, more fleshed-out sound than did his previous efforts. Brooks addresses both personal and universal themes with emotional authenticity. His affinity for Americana titans such as Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark is evident throughout the recording. Opener “I’m Going to Texas” recalls the raucous side of Johnny Cash — all galloping drums and frenetic guitar strums. Brooks’ frustrations are readily apparent as he belts the lines “Never seen much more of Austin than what fits on my screen,” and “I’ve been stuck in these Green Mountains where the sun don’t shine.” The ups and downs of domestic life — which Brooks alludes to in four of the five songs here — provide great songwriting fodder. But I can’t help thinking these tunes would be more effective sprinkled throughout a full-length. The melancholy “Shadow Where I Stand” is about balancing musical passion with the responsibilities of family. The strain is evident in Brooks’ intimate lyrics: “Mama feels that kicking in her belly like a mule / And in all her dreams it’s me that’s written ‘Folsom Prison Blues,’” he sings. “’Til the End of Time” evokes the comforting warmth of a solid relationship, but the vocal melody is a little too close to The Band’s classic cut “The Weight.”

Brooks remains a valuable fixture in a scene swarming with lesser talents. Be sure to toss a little something in the jar when he swings by the Langdon Street Café on Thursday, January 25.

-Josh LaClair - Seven Days


One needn't interview a lot of musicians before being told/reminded by one of them that the first musical instrument, after the voice, was a precussion instrument of some sort: a drum, or bones, or something. Lately I read a Margaret Fuller poem called "The Sistrum," about an ancient Egyptian rattle with some degree of religious significance. Drums and drumming and rattling and beating are things worth thinking about.

So a Vermont folkie named Josh Brooks put out his debut CD in 2001, another album in between that I never heard, and a nifty EP late in 2006. The new record, which is called "The White House Sessions," has a much fuller band sound. It is, all at the same time, both markedly better, on the one hand, and just plain different, on the other. Anyway "White House" has been playing in the background. So Friday afternoon I gave the EP more attention. And there was that fuller band sound ... but I wasn't actually hearing a band. Odd. So I checked his credits and found that the instrumentation on the new record - voice, acoustic guitar, harmonicas- is exactly the same as that on the debut, except foot-tapping has been replaced by drumming. And gee, the difference is REALLY amazing.

If anyone ever puts up money for a pro-percussion public service ad, Josh Brooks and his drummer buddy,Kent Blackmer,ought to become the national spokesmen. Meanwhile, if you want to develop an appreciation for drumming real quick, give Josh Brooks' music "before" and "after" listens. You won't regret it. Though Brooks' music has changed in other ways, as well, the drumming has done him a world of good.

One of the great things about the Signature Sounds DVD is that, by getting to actually see drummer Lorne Entress rather than to just hear him, one gets a much better idea of his considerable contributions to the music he is a part of. It is another example of the potential importance of drumming above and beyond the call of time-keeping duty.

-Alan Lewis
- New England Music Scrapbook


Folksinger Josh Brooks, from Addison County, is making a rare appearance in Montpelier on Thursday the 25th opening for Alaskan songwriter Larry Zarella. If Brooks’ recent EP release, The White House Sessions, is any indication, Zarella must be a very good performer, because Brooks is a talent to watch, one who could be headlining shows himself. Although Brooks has two full-length records to his credit, including 2003’s Better Days and 2001’s I Have Tried to Run, the White House Sessions (no, it’s not a political album) shows a singer/songwriter adept at both word and vocals. Brooks has a smooth, almost smoky baritone voice. His musical influences Steve Earle, Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, Johnny Cash, Guy Clark, and Neil Young are very much evident on the five tracks of this EP. These songs are about travel, “I’m Going to Texas,” relationship “Til the End of Time,” “Alive,” and Vermont in “Shadow Where I Stand.” These are better than average songs and Brooks is a solid vocalist who is good enough to front a country band. Apparently, Brooks is more than just a singer/songwriter. Lisa Sammet, who offers shows at the Music Box club in Craftsbury has high praise for his stage presence. “Josh is a storyteller on stage. A man with a great sense of humor.” Brooks’ Langdon Street performance on the 25th, along with headliner Zarella, is an opportunity to catch two very good folk singers at a very nominal price.

-Art Edelstein - The Times-Argus


Simple Gifts Coffee House is perhaps one of Nashua's best-kept secrets. Staying true to its form of bringing in unique artists, the feature this month is American roots musician Josh Brooks.
Brooks can evoke some serious foot-stomping in his songs, channel a bit of honky-tonk or soar into a a country-tinged ballad.
On his latest CD, "The White House Sessions," the Vermont acoustic guitarist also mixes in a bit of blues and one of those great, country-soul choruses to with "Baby, Let's Drop It." It also gives him a chance to showcase his harmonica skills. (They seriously put me to shame. Of course, I can barely manage "You Are My Sunshine." And my version is completely without riffs or hooks.)
Brooks' humor comes through on his MySpace page, www.myspace.com/joshbrooksvt., where he calls himself a "SWM in search of a label."
If he keeps turning out songs like "Baby, Let's Drop It," my guess is he won't be in search for too long.
- Nashua Telegraph, Nashua NH


Discography

I Have Tried to Run (2001)
Better Days (2003)
The White House Sessions EP (2007)
Lesson Learned (2009)
white house / black sheep (2009)

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Bio

Introducing Josh Brooks...
Vermont singer, songwriter & guitarist Josh Brooks has been called “a storyteller and message-bearer whose word-smithery and hints of darkness keep you listening to the end” (Seven Days), and ’Vermont’s Johnny Cash’ (Northeast Performer). Whether solo or accompanied by drummer Kent Blackmer, Brooks effortlessly traverses the American Roots spectrum, from touching folk ballad, to foot-stomping honky-tonk, country blues and roots rock. Brooks is “a storyteller on stage” and “a man with a great sense of humor” (Lisa Sammett, The Music Box), with “a voice that runs the gamut from boisterous to soulful to sweet” (Monadnock Ledger). With four critically-acclaimed albums under his belt,, Brooks is widely considered “one of the handful of Vermont artists with the sound, the original songs, and the voice to make the leap from local to national” (Vermont Public Radio).

Self-released albums…
Brooks’ debut album, I Have Tried to Run (2000), was released to great critical acclaim, with The Burlington Free Press calling Josh “a name to watch in the future of folk music, here or elsewhere.” Featuring the talents of drummer Kent Blackmer, Josh’s 2003 release Better Days was declared “a spirited and spiritual sophomore effort” by The Brattleboro Reformer. Recorded before a three-year hiatus from making music, Brooks’ five-song EP The White House Sessions (2007) earned him further accolades from the regional music community, with The Post-Star (Glens Falls NY) proclaiming: “Josh Brooks is a freight train. Somebody sign this guy,” and New England Music Scrapbook naming The White House Sessions one of the top 5 albums of 2007. In 2009, Brooks re-released the EP as white house / black sheep, with seven unreleased solo tracks.

Lesson Learned…
Kindergarten teacher and father of 2 and ½ by day, Josh released his fourth full-length album, Lesson Learned, in the spring of 2009. His first studio album since 2003’s Better Days, Lesson Learned finds Brooks and long-time drummer Kent Blackmer venturing into new sonic territory, inspired by the guitar atmospherics of Grant Lee Buffalo and the folk-grunge dynamism of Uncle Tupelo and the Drive-by-Truckers. Alan Lewis of New England Music Scrapbook declares: “These two musicians can achieve a remarkably full sound without many instruments - say, guitar, harmonica, and drums - and with little if any amplification. A lot of acts claim to do this. These two guys really do it.” Still, the song remains the focus for Brooks. Says John Pritchard of Seven Days: “His tales are never mired in poetic complexity. He is indeed a bard of the people… a truly talented artist who is approaching the top of his game.” For the Addison Independent’s Kathryn Flagg: “Lesson Learned’ is part country, part rock `n' roll- think a little Johnny Cash with a dash of classic Bruce Springsteen… an altogether enjoyable, highly listenable record." Solo or with his drummer, Josh Brooks is one singer-songwriter you have to hear.

Email: joshuag_brooks@yahoo.com Phone: 802-318-1760 Web: www.myspace.com/joshbrooksvt