Feet On The Coast, Mind On The Prairie: Tom Brosseau's Rootless Sound A Californian by way of North Dakota, with a voice that belies his gender, the singer-songwriter takes pride in being hard to pin down.
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Feet On The Coast, Mind On The Prairie: Tom Brosseau's Rootless Sound

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Feet On The Coast, Mind On The Prairie: Tom Brosseau's Rootless Sound

Feet On The Coast, Mind On The Prairie: Tom Brosseau's Rootless Sound

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Now let's spend a few moments with a new recording - simple, pure, captured with just a single microphone.

TOM BROSSEAU: My name is Tom Brosseau, and the title my new record is "Perfect Abandon."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Tom Brosseau's soaked up the "American Songbook" and grew up with music in church, school and home, surrounded by the hymnal and folk songs that were adored by his grandparents. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, but his heart remains far away back home.

BROSSEAU: I'm from a town in North Dakota called Grand Forks. Though I live in California, I think about this often - I feel like I'm just staying here. And, in many ways, I'm making my way back to living in North Dakota. So I never truly have ever felt like I've left. I have certain relics in my apartment. For example, a pair of Dan Post cowboy boots from my grandfather, a bolo tie that my other grandfather wore - these are all symbols, to me, of the prairie land. And truthfully, coming to California, being by the Pacific Ocean, when I would get lonesome, which would happen every now and again, I would go up to the beach and look out at the ocean and pretend it was just the prairie land of North Dakota.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ISLAND IN THE PRAIRIE SEA")

BROSSEAU: (Singing) A crop duster tilts a wing just for me. I smile from my island in the prairie seas.

Some of my biography is in each song, of course. The bulk of the record is narrative songs. One is "Landlord Jackie."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LANDLORD JACKIE")

BROSSEAU: (Singing) Jackie was my landlord. We liked each other immediately. I was young when I moved to LA and that was something she could see. She made a deal. I could reduce the rent by doing the short stuff, like take care of the lawn, pin and trim the bougainvillea.

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I really, really lucked out, and I got in touch with a lady who was renting out a cottage behind her house.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LANDLORD JACKIE")

BROSSEAU: (Singing) Coveted her I did, which put me against the first few commandments of the Bible.

It was my introduction to Los Angeles, living in this place, and being taken care of by my landlords Jackie and, at the time, her husband, Mark. They were a very positive influence on somebody like me moving to a big city like that. These people that you meet in your life, some of them just really deserve, like, an in-depth exploration in the world of song and painting, for example. And she is one of them. She's like a "Mona Lisa," in a way.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LANDLORD JACKIE")

BROSSEAU: (Singing) I think of this today and it makes me wonder would having a little something been such a blunder? This ole town is a pool of idiots and sin and worse. Corruptible sin, trying to be faithful only increases the volume of the voice and says it's all right. What are you waiting for? Jump on in.

Over the years, I've received quite a few compliments and some criticism, of course, on my voice. That it's high and you can't tell whether it's a female or a male singing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TELL ME LORD")

BROSSEAU: (Singing) Stars and no place above tonight.

But, you know, my father, Jim Brosseau, was a huge fan of these great singers, so growing up we listened to Pavarotti and we'd listened to these great voices on male and female. And, you know, at a very early age I just always wanted to go back and listen to Roy Orbison. He was a role model - a vocal role model - and I was just encouraged by those kinds of people.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TELL ME LORD")

BROSSEAU: (Vocalizing).

I imagine the people who listen to my music are people who appreciate not only the maneuvers musically but also lyrically. And then taking away from it whatever they will and then, you know, just getting back to their regular lives. You know, it's not like my music's going to change the world or anything like that, but I think that it will provide - hopefully - enjoyment, maybe a little heartbreak, which is important, but enjoyment, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TELL ME LORD")

BROSSEAU: (Singing) You gone and left me blue...

SIMON: You can hear Tom Brosseau's album "Perfect Abandon" as part of our First Listen series at NPR.org. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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