Michael Brennan

Michael Brennan

 Toronto, Ontario, CAN
BandAmericana

Country rock with touches of blues and folk and a voice that's been compared to Waylon Jennings and Roy Orbison. Influences range from Johnny Cash to Leonard Cohen to Steve Earle.

Biography


IN BRIEF:
Toronto-based singer and songwriter Michael Brennan takes country music seriously — but his strong, distinct voice and his crack band put a sharp edge on the songs he writes. There’s sentiment in what he writes and sings, but hardly a trace of sentimentality.

Originally from Cape Breton, Brennan has released his second solo album: Anywhere But Here is a roots rockin’ country record with heart and soul, set in the middle of a big smoky, busy city — but with a clear memory of where he’s from.

The new CD, produced by David Travers-Smith, features the best crack rhythm section in Canada, Gary Craig (drums) and John Dymond (bass) and the astonishing guitar playing of Kevin Breit, best known for his recorded and touring work with Norah Jones, Cassandra Wilson, and Harry Manx.

Anywhere But Here is as big, as honest, and as real as the man who wrote the songs and sings them with the heart and guts they demand.

IN FULL:
Michael Brennan: A big man who sings the truth

Anywhere But Here is a strong, rough-around-the-edges second album; country music with heart, soul and urban smarts.

Michael Brennan is a big man; slightly rumpled, like many people who teach for a living, have wives and families, and don’t drive late model cars fresh off GM’s production lines.

But, as the saying goes, don’t judge a book by the cover.

Michael Brennan is on stage, fronting his crack edgy country band, with some of the best musicians in Toronto. He’s in charge and suddenly the attention is on a voice that rumbles and trembles, and on songs that are as true and direct as the man who is singing them.

Now he’s released his second solo album: Anywhere But Here is a roots rockin’ country record with heart and soul, set in the middle of a big smoky, busy city — but with a clear memory of where he’s from. This is a place, sometimes, where you’d rather not be, if you had the choice.

Michael Brennan is the voice of REAL country music in Toronto. “Country” with edge, true stories, full of honest characters who’ve loved and lost more often than they’ve won. There’s sentiment here, but not much sentimentality. He’s seen a lot; Brennan is the sort of guy — like the characters in his songs — who’s been there and done that and survived.

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Michael Brennan’s story: Cape Breton, Nova Scotia born and raised, moved from the salt air to Toronto’s smog, settled down, and formed The Wayward Angels. Four years of hard graft in bars and clubs, and, finally, one well-received and well-reviewed CD.

Six years later — with vitally important time in between to raise a family, dig into a teaching career (math is his specialty), and write more songs — Brennan came back with his first solo CD. Cautious Man was a collection of 11 of those songs, smoothly produced by Chad Irschick.

It didn’t change Brennan’s life; he is a cautious man, and he hung on to his day job, and continued to play his important role as a parent. He played more club gigs than he did before, did his annual summer tour to the Maritimes, and watched with a smile as the critics — from Toronto to Texas, the Netherlands to Nova Scotia — praised his work with enthusiasm.

“A gotta-hear artist,” said Roots Music Report, based in Texas. “A country-rock hybrid,” said the Toronto Sun, while the Toronto Star called it “a fine collection of new original (songs).” Others invoked the names of a coterie of amazing artists — Roy Orbison, Steve Earle, Waylon Jennings, Neil Young and Nick Lowe among them in an attempt to put Brennan’s songs, voice and music in perspective.

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Michael Brennan doesn’t let that sort of stuff go to his head. Instead, he sits down, and creates more songs, more lyrics that cut to the bone, and a new record.

And then goes out and plays ’em in clubs and at concerts and festivals, where he reaches, directly, the people he singings about and singing for.

The new CD, produced by David Travers-Smith, features the best crack rhythm section in Canada, Gary Craig (drums) and John Dymond (bass) and the astonishing guitar playing of Kevin Breit, best known for his recorded and touring work with Norah Jones, Cassandra Wilson, Harry Manx, and his own bands, Sisters Euclid and Folk Alarm. Breit played no less than seven stringed instruments during the sessions for the record, including acoustic and electric guitars, mandolins, banjo, mandola, mando-cello and dobro.

Other players on the CD include Rob Guzevs on organ, Rebecca Campbell on background vocals, Steve Dawson on pedal steel, and guitarist Steve Briggs — who plays with Brennan’s band on live appearances.

All the songs are Brennan originals, with the exception of a classic Townes van Zandt song, No Place to Fall, and Mystery Train, the Junior Parker rhythm and blues tune that was turned into a smash hit by Elvis Presley, and which opens the CD.

Mor

Lyrics

Cautious Man

Written By: Michael Brennan

A cautious man’s got cautious ways
Does what he can to keep the wolves at bay
A cautious man’s got cautious ways

I walk the line every day
But time and again I must admit that I stray
While Jekyll’s sleeping, Hyde’s raging away

Chorus
I’m a cautious man
And I’ve got cautious ways
I do what I can to keep the wolves at bay
Yes I’m a cautious man
I’ve got cautious ways

I keep my back to the wall, I’m wary I know
I don’t talk to strangers, I watch where I go
I’ve been tempted and tried but I’m careful most days
Then that wild streak in me, blows in like a hurricane

When the full moon comes out to play
That’s the time I’ve got to hide away
Cause the werewolf in me starts howling in pain

Chorus

Yes I’m a cautious man…

Anywhere But Here

Written By: Michael Brennan

I had a job in the pit mine
I was lucky enough I guess
And my wife she worked at the Wal-Mart
We got a discount of ten percent
Yeah we were doing alright
And the kids they loved it here
‘Til they cut me from the pay roll
I wished I was anywhere but here

Well I got by on the package
When that was gone I got the U.I.C.
But my bitterness just deepened
I was a weight on my family
And when the last quarrel erupted
And my youngest shed those tears
Yes I wished and I prayed Lord
That I was anywhere but here

I headed west like the old cliché
I had some buddies here in Toronto
And I got work but it’s on call
Some weeks are busy then it always slows
And I think of my children
As I stare into this beer
My wish here in Parkdale
Is to be anywhere but here

Yes my wish here in Parkdale
Is to be anywhere but here

Everything Has Changed

Written By: Michael Brennan

Coming back to this place
Oh nothing much has really changed
As I walk these old familiar streets
All is as it was it seems
But everything has changed without you

Coming back to this town
The same old boys are still hanging round
And we talk about those Canadiens
And will those Leafs ever win again
But everything has changed without you

I never thought I’d feel this way
But without you nothing’s quite the same
An awful emptiness I feel
This town has lost its heart for me

Coming back to what was once my home
I never though I’d feel so all alone
But everything has changed without you

I fell like I’m a stranger now
It’s like I’m in some other town
What reasons have I now to stay
Without you they’ve all slipped away

Coming back to what was once my home
I never though I’d feel so all alone
But everything has changed without you

Gone

Written By: Michael Brennan

I lay here tonight on my bed and weep
Shadows pass like ghosts from beneath
I can’t close my eyes, I can’t sleep though I try
All I see is your face, I can never touch again

Chorus
You’re gone gone gone
And I just can’t seem to carry on
Gone gone gone
And I just don’t know what to do with myself now you’re gone

At last the sky has turned from black to grey
I might as well get up and try to face the day
But I can’t eat, I can’t drink, I just dump it all down the sink
Nothing tastes like it should, nothing does me any good

Chorus

I keep thinking you’ll come walking through the door
Everybody tells me it’ll get better but it just keeps hurting me more

The leaves have all turned burnt orange and red
October skies, not a cloud overhead
But all I see is grey, all is black to me today
I can’t get over you, I miss you more and more it’s true

Chorus X 2

Grow Old With Me

Written By: Michael Brennan

Baby grow old with me
Stay with me always
And baby grow strong with me
By my side always
There’ll be times when there’ll be storms
But there’ll always come the calm
Grow old with me, only with me

Baby be true to me
I’ll be true always
And baby be one with me
Forever and always
There’ll be times when I may hurt you
But forgive and I will learn
Grow old with me, only with me

Baby grow old with me
Stay with me always
And baby grow strong with me
By my side always
There’ll be times when I’ll be wrong
But let our love carry on
Grow old with me, and only with me

Not Myself

Written By: Michael Brennan

I’m out of step these days
Out of each or in the way
Nothing’s real any more
Nothing’s like it was before

This house it looks the same
But to me it’s all changed
I don’t feel I belong
That’s my life with you gone

Chorus
The sky’s a funny shade
A blue God never made
Something’s outta tune
I’m not myself without you

As I walk down this street
I don’t recognize a thing
Have I been here before
Must be a million times or more

No I’m just not myself
Fell like somebody else
A man without heart
Ever since we’ve been apart

Chorus

Get Outta This Town

Written By: Michael Brennan

Mama told me when I was 14
You gotta get out of this town
Use that brain for the next few years
And don’t you be messing around
Work real hard get your B.Sc.
You know I never went to university
And don’t you dare end up like your ma
Oh my son you’ve all I got

Chorus
You gotta get out of this town
Too much of nothing’s gonna bring you down
And don’t you dare be hanging around
You gotta get outta this town

Well I barely got by in a high school world
God I was awkward too
Sure was dumb when it came to girls
Didn’t know how to make my move
But I got good grades and a bursary
When I headed off to university
Worked two years in Etobicoke
Had enough and I headed back home

Chorus

Well here I am back in my home town
And it’s been a few years
Me and the boys still hang around
And we have a few beers
Never got around to a family
No little kiddies running round me
And mama passed on she was quite ill
But I can hear her nagging me still

You gotta get out of this town
Too much of nothing’s gonna bring you down
It breaks my heart that you’re hanging around
You gotta get outta this town

Repeat previous chorus

Discography

Anywhere But Here (2008)
Cautious Man (2006)
Two For The Road (2002)
Wayward Angels (1999)
Michael Brennan and the Wayward Angels (1992)