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California singer/songwriter Brett Dennen has a new CD out called So Much More. Dennen's trio recently stopped by our studios and played some songs from the new record. He spoke with DAY TO DAY music critic Christian Bordal

(Soundbite of music from album "So Much More")

BORDAL: The first time you hear Brett Dennen it'll be his voice that stops you sort and makes you pay attention.

Brett is a big, tall guy from California farm country. But his voice is high and soft and sweet.

Mr. BRETT DENNEN (Singer): (Singing) There ain't no reason things are this way that's how they've always been and they intend to stay. And I can't explain why we live this way. We do it every day.

BORDAL: His songs are soft, too, mostly delicate '70s folk tunes with sensitive, earnest lyrics. But Dennen's soulful vocal delivery and some sly, understated funky grooves keep the whole thing from turning into Dan Fogelberg or Bread. Here's Brett with just bass and drums at a recent session we recorded at NPR West's studios.

(Soundbite of music from album "So Much More")

Mr. DENNEN: (Singing) People walk around pushing their debts, wearing paychecks like necklaces and bracelets. Talking about nothing, not thinking about death, every little heartbeat, every little breath.

BORDAL: Brett Dennen grew up in California's heartland,

Mr. DENNEN: Yeah, I grew up in a really small agricultural town called Oakdale, California. It's right in the heart of the Central Valley, the San Joaquin Valley of California. It's a little farm town, lots of cowboys there. There's a rodeo there, there's a Hershey Chocolate factory there.

(Soundbite of music from album "So Much More")

Mr. DENNEN: (Singing) Love will come and set me free.

BORDAL: Brett and his siblings were home-schooled.

Mr. DENNEN: It wasn't for religious reasons; it really wasn't for political reasons. I think we were just a, you know, a homegrown, close-knit family when I was young.

BORDAL: Dennen's upbringing shows through in the political idealism of some of his songs, like the song I Asked When.

Mr. DENNEN: So the idea is all right, so we can build tall buildings, we can build bridges that stretch clear across the water. We can do all these things...

(Soundbite of song "I Asked When")

Mr. DENNEN: (Singing) I saw bridges stretching out across the water and towers pushing taller...

Mr. DENNEN: But still we don't have peace, still we don't, you know, have social justice. And it's just absurd to me why, you know, if we can achieve all these other things, why can't we come together and work on achieving things for humans on a more human level.

(Soundbite of song "I Asked When")

Mr. DENNEN: (Singing) I saw poisons pushed in the stream, prescription pills mingling in the mezzanine with the (unintelligible) to doctors and pharmaceutical companies. You poor people, we're dying from disease. And I asked when is the revolution?

BORDAL: When I listen to Brett Dennen's new CD, I hear two different songwriting voices vying for primacy. On the one hand, there's the earnest, verbal, socially conscious voice owes a big debt to early Bob Dylan. And on the other hand, there's the looser, funkier, less pedantic Brett that's giving the groove a little more space to breathe. Those two sides of Dennen's songwriting manage to come together and coexist on one of my favorite tracks on the record, She's Mine.

(Soundbite of song "She's Mine")

Mr. DENNEN: (Singing) (Unintelligible) dances among the (unintelligible) on the promenade into a tabernacle on the lawn, but I don't follow because she's mine...

BRAND: Christian Bordal comes to us from member station KCRW in Santa Monica. Tunes from Brett Dennen's album So Much More are available in digital form right now, and hard copies will be in stores next week. To hear more of the live session at NPR West studios, go to our Web site,

(Soundbite of song "She's Mine")

Mr. DENNEN: (Singing) Midnight moved across the people's park, and I fled the fire like a spinning spark upon (unintelligible) in the dark as she was waiting right there for me. She knows that my hands are empty as I go past the mothers in envy. And I don't have to fumble in the dark for my keys, I believe she's mine, she's mine, she's mine...

BRAND: There's more to come on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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