Singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Cait Brennan has an interesting story. Although raised as a boy, Brennan, as it states in her biography, “rebelled against her assigned gender in her teens, causing a minor uproar in her conservative ‘80s school.”
She had been a compulsive songwriter since youth and had a knack for picking up any instrument and learning it in short order. She started performing live gigs and picked up a solid fan base, along with some high profile supporters, including fellow transgender artist Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!
Eventually she met Indie-rocker Fernando Perdomo and he became enamored with her and her music. Together they collaborated on the 13 tracks for Brennan’s debut album, “Debutant,” out last week from Black Market Glamour Records.
“Debutante” is a collection of easy-going, highly melodic power pop with strong harmonies sung with conviction. The album as a whole is an entertaining listen. It opens with “Good Morning, Good Morning,” a summery rocker that sounds like it should have been played on ‘70s radio alongside Fleetwood Mac, ELO or Supertramp. It has a decidedly retro feel, especially in the chorus. “Underworld” is another catchy acoustic rocker, this time with a bit of a Matthew Sweet vibe. “Dear Arthur” is a switch to a mellow acoustic guitar accompaniment for Brennan’s rich and emotional vocal.
“Lines” is a fuzz-toned, mid-tempo rocker that adds a bit of a different color to the album, although it doesn’t stray from the ‘70s classic-rock feel. “Once Upon a Nevermind” is a folk singalong with a lively, whimsical charm. Next comes the rollicking “I Want You Back,” built on a frenetic drum pattern and a richly whirring order. Brennan pulls off urgency needed to make the track work and ultimately it’s one of the most successful pieces on the album.
“Showman” is an obviously personal piece of romantic turmoil that vaguely echoes George Michael’s classic “One More Try.” Brennan wears sincerity on her sleeve and delivers a passionate vocal performance. A stronger melodic hook may have amped up the song’s power and appeal, but no one can doubt Brennan’s conviction.
“Father McKenzie” is one of the characters in the Beatles’ chilly expression of loneliness, “Eleanor Rigby.” We couldn’t get further from that territory here, with a song that owes a lot to buoyant ‘60s pop, complete with the soaring backing vocals. Brennan veers into bluesy rock on “Meet Your Maker’’s introduction before lurching into a briskly marching pop section, then retreating back to the heavy blues. It’s nicely executed but doesn’t seem to serve a purpose. The song’s most powerful moments by far are the soulful guitar blues. Had “Meet Your Maker” been recorded wholly in that vibe, it might be the album’s standout.
The album closes with the strongest track, “Black Diamond,” a stark acoustic and piano ballad with a gorgeous vocal by Brennan. It’s stirring and exquisitely beautiful.
“Debutante” is a solid effort and worth picking up, for sure. Cait Brennan is a talent to watch. The instincts are there, and she certainly knows how to write a catchy song, but the arrangements are a little clunky and simplistic, the mixing is off at times (particularly with the backing vocals, which are way too high in the mix) and sometimes there is a certain sameness in Brennan’s vocals. Many of the songs occupy the same sonic territory and 10 tracks instead of 13 would have arguably resulted in a more focused and cohesive collection.