Braden Gates is a brave man. At a moment when folk music means layers of moody reverb and legions of backing banjoists, Gates isn’t afraid to indulge in stripped down storytelling on his debut LP, Break it to Me Gently. A lone man and his guitar. Uncluttered rhymes and some ol’ fashioned finger-picking. For those accustomed to folk-rock symphonies, it seems too easy. But uncomplicated story will always have a place. Long after Dylan plugged in, Stan Rogers was still singing the tale of the Northwest Passage.
To that end, Gates’s songs come off as oddly sincere. They toe the line of schmaltzy. Us twenty-somethings are ducks in tailings ponds of irony, so songs about trucking to the Oilers game with grandpa are jarringly loving. But settle into the album. Allow the music to eat at the slick layer of cynicism. I know Gates and I aren’t the only ones who have spent nights reveling in the work of Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen (“We Sing the Beatles”). And his song for a lonely, aging relative (“Last Boat in the Harbour”) is just pretty, damnit.
It’s not that Gates is humourless. His raucous fiddle tune, “Gator’s Gym Girl”, is a tongue-in-cheek ode to a drugged-up dancer at a coffeehouse show. And judging from his fine cover of the Beastie Boys’ “Fight For Your Right” at a recent Elevation Room gig, he is familiar with the concept of partying. This is not self-serious folksinger.
Point being, Break It to Me Gently is an album of solid story songs. They are stories from his life and from the lives of the grizzled old men he keeps company in the afternoon at Blues On Whyte. They’re simple and sweet. No, the album isn’t pushing the boundaries of music, but it’s honest. These are the types of song that give you a contented smile as you doze in the sun at folk fest. Give ’em a try. Pass Braden Gates the mic and try tapping into your soft side.