introduction by tom johnson
words by tom brosseau
Tom Brosseau kick-started his new album campaign on these very pages with the unveiling of ‘You Can’t Stop‘ earlier this summer, and so it is that just as the weather and the season takes a turn toward far darker and murky territories so too said album arrives with all the glowing, sentimental beauty we’ve come to expect.
Streaming in full below, “North Dakota Impressions” furthers that weighty sense of sentimentality, proffering nine beautiful folk songs that bring a distinct sense of warmth to a time of year that can so easily dispel such affectations. Brosseau’s voice and tender way with words remains at the forefront of everything his gentle spirit touches, and it’s true to say that the new record finds him in finer voice that perhaps ever before.
Though the full release of the record isn’t until this-coming Friday (September 16th) you can listen to the record in full below, alongside a track-by-track guide to the LP, penned by Brosseau himself. We recommend spending a lot of time with this one…
The acoustic guitar I use on North Dakota Impressions is a 1940s Martin. It has seen much play in its time and has the scars to prove it. In fact, when I bought it there was a hole in it about the size of a silver dollar. You might think a guitar with an extra hole in it would sound terrible. But no. It had no bearing on the sound.
This was the first song recorded for North Dakota Impressions. Though I was a little nervous, and felt kind of stiff, the session went smoothly and set the right tone for the songs to come. I am always unsure when I get back into the recording studio. I fear that I’ll not be able to sing, I’ll not be able to play.
When I first performed this song in front of an audience it was shadowy with incompleteness. I played it anyway in the hopes a new light would shine away some of the darkness. Sometimes it’s hard to complete a song. You’ll have a good idea, a little bit of momentum, and almost be finished but can’t locate the waving flag. If you are a writer, just listen to me. Stay with it.
I did a tour in 2011 and specially printed up (200) copies of an album of live and unreleased recordings. You Can’t Stop was part of that compilation. I knew that would not be the final version of the song. I’d come back around to it one day. This was the last song recorded for North Dakota Impressions.
Sean Watkins is quite a talent to play along side. On this track, for the most part he is providing the acoustic rhythm and harmonies, except for the lead towards the end. This might not be evident to some, but there’s a noticeable shift in guitar parts. You can tell the two apart by their tonal qualities. Sean’s lead playing on this track is intuitive and economical. But, simple as it may seem, it’s his rhythm playing that I tend to study most. It’s like an impenetrable heartbeat. Steady and true.
I owe much of my love of the folk way to my grandmother, Lillian Uglem. She enjoyed acoustic music, rosemaling and embroidery, baking and cooking. Her parents both emigrated from Scandinavia, Denmark and Norway, and took their traditions with them to the new world. Perhaps at the essence of the folk way is the notion of the local. I love chasing down the kind of idea that leads me to investigate the local. As a detective, it is my favorite beat.
I wrote a series of new North Dakota specific compositions, some of which revolve around the oil fields in the western part of the state. Nobody To Call My Own is a sort of mediation on the prairie, the oil industry and heartache. Not all of the new North Dakota specific compositions were recorded, and not all of the ones that were recorded found their way into the trilogy. But the right ones did. They lace throughout Grass Punks, Perfect Abandon and North Dakota Impressions.
The only edit this song has gone through since I wrote it in 2002 is the day of the week. Wednesday night became Saturday. The original recording was produced by Gregory Page and features him on a wistful pump organ that once belonged to a San Diego, California clergyman, who used it on house calls, in the field at certain functions and funerals.
I don’t know why I wrote this composition. That happens a lot with me. But I did sit down and I did have a pencil and paper and I did spend time on it. I just don’t know why. Maybe in the future the things I have composed will make more sense to me. For the time being, I’m still living in this song, still living in the North Dakota Impressions album. Perhaps it’s like this, the body knows. The body knows what’s going on before the mind knows what’s going on, and it leads you. I mean, have you ever wondered to yourself, OK, wait a second, how did I even get here?
‘North Dakota Impressions’ is released on September 16th –
You can pre-order it here