Broussard shows talent and savvy beyond his years

The Louisiana singer, just 22, is a blend of influences

Music: in concert, CDs

August 26, 2004|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

Just as the conversation warms up, Marc Broussard fades out. He's calling from his cell phone, sitting on a bus en route to a gig in Trenton, N.J. Each time he calls back, the pop-rock singer sounds like a Verizon wireless commercial: "Can you hear me now? Good. What I was saying ..."

Broussard, who plays Recher Theatre tomorrow night, is one of the freshest talents on the scene right now -- a singer-songwriter-musician whose sound is an impressive, heady mix of Bruce Springsteen's rock energy, Stevie Wonder's elastic phrasing and a dollop of Otis Redding's Southern grit. His new album, Carencro, is a fine (though at times slightly tentative) showcase of what the Louisiana native can do. At only 22, he's a well-developed vocalist -- distinctive and impassioned.

"I wanted to convey all that, man," says Broussard, his voice husky with a bluesy richness that belies his age. "On the album, I wanted to convey honesty and truth and soul. All of it was coming from a real place."

The album's title is indeed a real place, a quiet, down-home community just outside of Lafayette where Broussard grew up.

"I lived in three different houses on the same street growing up in Carencro," he says. "I went to Carencro Middle School, Carencro High School. It's a very soulful place, man. Everything that I am is in that special place. It's about the soul, you know."

Soul. That word, or variations of it, pops up often as Broussard discusses his approach. It permeates the music that influenced him as a child in Carencro -- particularly the classic sounds of Wonder and Donny Hathaway, his idol. Another major influence is his father, Ted, a guitarist with the Boogie Kings, a legendary Louisiana swamp-pop outfit.

"He was a great father to me, a great man," Broussard says. "He was [into jazz] and because I was in the house, I picked up on George Benson, Wes Montgomery and all that. Al Jarreau, Chick Corea. I didn't think all that was cool then, but I vibe off of it now. But whenever I feel like I need to go back, you know, get grounded in the real stuff, I always go back to Donny Hathaway, man."

Don't get the impression that Carencro is a soul revival record a la the debuts of Joss Stone and Ricky Fante. It's not a neo-soul joint, either. The album -- the follow-up to his 2002 independently released debut, Momentary Setback, and his first for a major label, Island Records -- is steeped in brash rock, shaded with a little Louisiana stomp (check out the first song, "Home"). And Southern soul flourishes ripple through most of the album's 11 cuts.

But Carencro isn't a masterpiece -- though it's impressive, even moving in some spots ("The Beauty of Who You Are" sounds like a stirring ballad Bobby Womack should have recorded back in '75). But overall, the album is uneven. The first five tunes are solid; the remaining six feel a little restless.

There's no doubt that in working with a major label this time, Broussard had to make some concessions here and there. The first single, the pedestrian and decidedly soul-less "Where You Are," is perhaps the weakest song on the CD and definitely not an ideal introduction to the guy's vocal gift. "You pick and choose your battles," the artist says, referring to the politics of major labels. "There are times I felt like I was [getting a raw deal]. And other times, I felt like it was working for me. Island hasn't had an artist like me in a long time. I've learned, man, that you have to focus in on what's important to you and what's not so important. I'm on a great label, as far as I'm concerned."

Since mid-July, Broussard has been crisscrossing the country, playing small and medium-sized venues with fellow spirited singer-songwriter Gavin DeGraw. The grind has inspired his songwriting. He loves the spontaneity of live performance.

The cell phone reception fuzzes up. Again.

"Hello? Yeah, man, my priority is to give this record some legs," Broussard says. "I want it to be successful; I want people to hear it. The record may sell 30 million copies or 30 copies. Who knows what the future holds? I mean, we'll see what happens."

And he's out.

Marc Broussard plays the Recher Theatre, 512 York Road in Towson, tomorrow night at 8. Tickets are $7 and are available through Ticketmaster by visiting or calling 410-547-SEAT.

Hear Rashod Ollison on the radio, Tuesdays at 1 p.m. on Live 105.7 and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on WTMD-FM 89.7.

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