Respected Portland, OR producer (Anna Tivel, Beth Wood, Jeffrey Martin) Tyler Fortier has released singles previously under his pseudonym Last Year’s Son. Brave the Storm is his debut album, and it is notable for any number of reasons.
Vocally, the album is strong. He has a fine voice, expressive and controlled. A bit wispy, it feels like he is ‘holding back’ to present the voice he feels his songs require. Brave the Storm reminds me of the music Deep Dark Woods once made—maybe they still do—and those momentarily interesting Bon Iver albums of long ago. Unlike with Justin Vernon (sorry, not sorry) there is a lasting intimacy within each of Last Year’s Man’s performances, the eye-to-ear connection of a house concert/coffee shop gig.
There is a lot going on in his songs, but they don’t sound crowded or contrived. While most are built around acoustic guitar, the selected embellishments are welcome accompaniments. Sometimes a voice comes through from the side (including Martin and Tivel.) Other times it is a bit of trumpet (Bart Budwig on “No Eye on the Sparrow,”) or just a bit of pedal steel from Phillippe Brongchtein (as on “Guide You Back to Me,” one of the album’s standout pieces).
Erin Flood Fortier contributes accompanying vocals to the majority of songs. Together with Kati Claborn and Luke Ydstie, this vocal trio help Last Year’s Man elevate “Feet of Clay” into a tender hymn of devotion and acceptance.
As is sung within the title track, “I know there’s nothing I can say that you haven’t heard;” this is the challenge of the songwriter and folk singer: it’s all been done before, so what do I bring? Last Year’s Man (okay…enough—switching to Fortier)…Tyler Fortier realizes relationships and challenges, redemption and loss, heartbreak and elation have all been approached a hundred thousand different ways already; hell, he starts the album with, “Everything’s been said and done…”
The art comes in addressing the expected in a way we haven’t previously experienced, and that is what Fortier does through his eight songs comprising Brave the Storm. While Fortier doesn’t pretend he has the solution, as generations of folk, rock, blues, and old-time songwriters and performers have done before him, he points us toward the answers: it is up to us to take the needed actions.
Early on and within “No Eye On The Sparrow” he sings, “There’s a storm coming,” warning us of those who will do evil in our name. By the album’s concluding song, “The Valley of Jehoshaphat,” Fortier is done with hints:
“Your brothers are dying, their bombs are all flying.
This ain’t no time to be a martyr, so grab your gun, your bullets, and your hat.
Grab your whiskey and your bible
The hypocrisy of our leaders, our institutions, hell—our own hypocrisy—is what will destroy us. Not to get too heavy, but as in the past, those who foretell the future are seldom believed.
The good thing is, Tyler Fortier—Last Year’s Man—makes it sound so damned good. You’ll find yourself grooving along to a song, and then the meaning—or possible meaning—of the lyrics will hit you and you’ll think, ‘Damn- how can something so grim sound so positive and appealing?‘
There’s the trick, and Fortier has found it. The message is best delivered subtly and sincerely, without rancor and accusation. It is best received when we discover it ourselves.
Doesn’t hurt when it is disguised inside a cracking good song. Or in the case of Brave the Storm, eight of them.
[Have to admit, I would have appreciated another song or two; at 30 minutes and eight songs, Brave the Storm is just a tad light. Content wise: powerful.]