Mississippi born, singer-songwriter Gann Brewer is, indeed another in a line of American everyman folk singers inspired by the likes of Woody Guthrie, John Prine and Hank Williams. What makes Brewer stand out, however, is his tenor vocals, sense of humor and almost all too honest lyrics. Peddlers & Ghosts is his second full-length studio album.
On this 14-track release Brewer takes the lead on lead vocals, acoustic guitar and harmonica. He is, however, occasionally assisted by other artists including Memphis-based studio musicians Richard Ford (pedal steel guitar), David Michael Lee (keyboards and bass guitar), LaHonda, California's Lisa Kelly (mandolin) and engineer Jeremiah Tucker (shakers).
The album opener is “Dancin’ In Memphis." Whether it is a simple tribute to the town in which the disc was recorded or more of a coincidental reflection is not known. In truth, it doesn’t matter. What matters is it works as an intro to what the man can do as a singer-songwriter.
The second selection is “Who Told You I’z Down?” This is one of the many songs Brewer more-or-less composed while touring. Inspired by the likes of Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, he takes advantage of the time he spends crossing the country and seemingly uses the silence of being a lone traveler to come up with his tuneful tales.
The next number is “Miss Smoky Mountain.” This is perhaps one of those songs one would expect to hear form an artist in this genre. While its inclusion is no surprise, however, it is very clear upon listening that this is his song and he owns it.
“Dogrunner (Craigslist Ad)” is a downright “cheat”. It really is a Craigslist Ad that Brewer had posted to garner dog-walking jobs while in New York City. He freely admits: “I also taught a bit of guitar and one day I decided to make an ad for both things . . . then one day, I started playing a simple pattern with the ad, just as it read, for that reason, nothing at all rhymes in the song, but it makes people smile.” It is funny to think that he is literally being paid to advertise his services and serves as a knowing wink to all those indie artists whose first few CDs serve primarily as demos. It also proves inspiration comes from the most unusual places.
“Matter With Me” follows. This is perhaps overshadowed by the previous piece but further demonstrates Brewer’s intentions to present somewhat simple, honest songs that have their own identity and yet fit into the overall ‘written on the road/slice of life” feel of the album. It’s an early favorite of online critics.
The sixth song is “She's Good To Me.” This is pretty much a prerequisite for any single artist. Still, with Brewer’s classic folk presentation listeners would be disappointed not to hear it. It’s all too quickly followed by his cover of a Meredith Hinshaw-Ryan Chaney composition titled “Bad, Bad Tennessee.” Again, one would be disappointed if it was not included as Brewer injects it with his own brand of world-wear traveler’s soul-bearing pain.
“Coldwater River Risin’” is perhaps one of the songs that inspired the CD’s title. It just has that “swamp ghost” backwoods feel to it. “A Juneau Pipedream” while still of that “written on the road” takes us off in a new direction and reminds us again of the places Brewer has gone as a traveling troubadour. Also included here is “Throwin’ Stones” which while overlooked by some critics is still noteworthy as another example of Brewer’s signature sound.
“Sidewalk Slim” is one of the best tracks on the album. It’s a tribute to homeless folks. If you’re following in the footsteps of guys like Guthrie then again without it the work would be incomplete. Rather than ignore this fact, Brewer embraces it.
“Moanin' Santa Rosa Jail Blues” is another “well-maybe-now-it’s-funny” kinda cuts. It’s another original songstory that serves as an effective musical apology to the true owner of the car he was driving when he ran astray of the law. One wonders how many times he had to perform this song to “pay” for it.
“You Make Me Fly” is an expected but nonetheless exceptional subtle song. It fits well following the previous tuneful tale of tribulation. “Leaving It All Behind” is the aptly placed closing cut. This is his version of a song written by Joe Stephenson as well as an early fan favorite.
This album is an honest, back porch set in which Brewer shares in song the ups, downs and interesting insights to touring. Check out Gann Brewer’s Peddlers & Ghosts and you just might find yourself taking a tuneful turn and happily “Leaving It All Behind.”
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.