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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

North Dakota-based singer/songwriter Tom Brosseau, has been captivating audiences for years with his unusual voice. But only recently has he had interest from record labels. Not one but two CDs of his music have been released this year.

Critic Tom Moon has this review.

(Soundbite of music)

TOM MOON reporting:

Tom Brosseau comes from a family of storytellers. He grew up in North Dakota and says that he learn about timing, that ability to set up a story so it ends with a flourish, from hearing his great-uncle, Joe Rutherford, around the dinner table.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. TOM BROSSEAU (Singer/Songwriter): (Singing) I tuned my guitar to the hum of the train, as we traveled along and started to sing. Somebody asked me what key we were in. The tires of the truck was the drum that we heard, keeping the beat without missing a verse. The older you get, the harder it is to learn.

MOON: When Brosseau started writing songs, he didn't think too much about the singing. He mostly cared about the narratives. He wrote murder ballads and variations on the blues, and broken-hearted laments that seem at first to be just like songs we've heard a zillion times, but only at first.

Mr. BROSSEAU: (Singing) I come across your old friends, they don't know me now. Sometimes I get a glance every now and then. Well babe, I don't know them either, in fact, I never did.

MOON: The singing might've been an afterthought for Tom Brosseau when he started out, but it's what draws you to him. He's an old soul, 29 going on 99. He's got the plainspoken directness of Hank Williams, Sr., and a delicate way of phrasing that sometimes recalls Billie Holiday.

He's totally earthbound, but at the same time sort of out there in the ether.

Mr. BROSSEAU: (Singing) Remember that you're young and sweet. You shouldn't have to be (Unintelligible). Cause when you're down, it bothers me, and sometimes it chills me to the bone.

MOON: That song is from Tom Brosseau's self-titled disc. It was mostly recorded in an afternoon, with Brosseau playing guitar and singing and producer Gregory Page, adding maybe a violin, or some pump organ in the background.

There's another CD, which is called Empty Houses are Lonely, and that's just as spare.

Mr. BROSSEAU: (Singing) Ain't she Em(ph) again. She's my only friend. We listen to each other speak, and then we lie back to bed. She sleeps in jewelry made by Indians. Sometimes it tangles in her hair, but I don't really think she cares.

MOON: Brosseau is working on new songs, which he expects to record later in the year. He says he has no plans to change his approach, and he has no desire to create a more polished context for the songs, which exist in a desolate no-man's land between country, folk, and blues.

That's good news, because Tom Brosseau's songs work best when they're spaced for some prairie wind to blow right through them.

BLOCK: Tom Brosseau's CDs are titled Tom Brosseau and Empty Houses are Lonely. Our reviewer is Tom Moon.

Mr. BROSSEAU: (Singing) Mary is a girl I see, every now and then...

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