With today’s improved access to musical instruments, recording equipment, and the internet, it is now possible for anyone and their brother to make a CD. As such, there is currently a glut of independently produced and released CD’s from obscure artists in the music world. How is one to wade through the mass of artists who all claim legitimacy?
One sure-fire way to separate the goats from the sheep in the music world is to examine the quality of song writing found in CD’s. Anybody (including me!) can plug in a rack of pedals and come up with interesting sounds, but song writing is an art that few master. Song writing is what Eric Hause does best, as evidenced on The Branding Iron, his third independently released full-length. Haling from Oregon, Hause is a bit of an anachronism…as he relies on word-of-mouth recommendations to promote his releases (as opposed to an aggressive internet presence). His music harkens back to a simpler time, too, a time when song writing was a craft; when the organic sounds of acoustic guitars and live drums dominated the landscape, and when lyrics told intimate and imaginative stories. Playing folk-rock style of music with western elements and a slight hint of indie-rock sensibilities, Hause showcases his impressive ability to express ideas through music. His song writing ability references people like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, for Hause, both in his unpolished voice and blue-collar tales, represents the “every man” in his music (free of the pretension-ness that plagues music on all levels). Hause, though a seriously gifted songwriter, even tempers his release with humour, most obviously in the joke/mood track “Beef”, and the ridiculously funny picture of a cow’s head on the front cover of the CD. In fact, this cow head makes me wonder if music fans will take Hause’s CD seriously, due to the sheer oddity of the image. The Branding Iron may feature an amateurish-looking cover (on purpose, no doubt), but the music is excellent. Produced by Evan Eustis and Hause, The Branding Iron contains 13 folk-rock songs, with strong melodies, exquisite guitar work, and Hause’s passionate and distinct vocal delivery. Adding to the well-proportioned structures of the songs are moments of inspiration that hold the listener captive, such as how “Skin” effortlessly melts into “Without a Woman”, or the intricate guitar work of “Song of Songs”. While much of The Branding Iron features a fully-produced sound (and a noted improvement in this area over Hause’s two previous releases), Hause really shines on the more stripped-back tunes. For example, on “Chantell Knows”, picked guitars and brushed percussion support Hause’s fragile voice. And that voice…Hause possesses an interesting delivery that sounds equal parts Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and a crazed Neilson Hubbard, while sounding like none of these. Hause has the voice of your blue-collar next-door neighbour, yet with his voice he is able to vividly convey sadness, joy, humour, and sensitivity. Lyrically, Hause recounts tales of heartache, love, and life, with a hint of Gospel imagery. Hause’s lyrics are well-suited to his country and western influenced music.
Overall, I am quite impressed with The Branding Iron as an artistic statement. In a world of song writers without substance, Hause stands out as one of the gems, writing beautiful songs with integrity, skill and determination. While some may bemoan the loss of mystery in recording and releasing music in this technologically-advanced world, it is satisfying to know that artists like Eric Hause are given access to the resources they need to record engaging music. Eric Hause has found his niche, and fans of stripped-down western-laced acoustic rock have a new voice to listen to.