Album Review of Last Year’s Man: Brave the Storm
Last Year’s Man is the nom de plume of Eugene, Oregon-based producer and songwriter Tyler Fortier. And since Brave the Storm was released in November 2020, I guess you could call it last year’s album. However, the crisp, detailed songwriting, the raspy voice that seems to understand the plight of the everyman, and the timeless style that rests somewhere along the line between singer-songwriter and folk could just as easily make this every year’s album.
With all of the very talented singer-songwriters out in the world, I tend to be selective about which singer-songwriter albums I share with you. Brave the Storm is mellow and laid-back enough that it’ll sneak up on you before you realize what a well-crafted classic it really is. I suppose the same could be said for its creator, Last Year’s Man.
The album begins pleasantly with a rich, full-band folk sound – I love a warm, filled-in sound bed – that recalls a river flowing, later joined by Fortier’s comfortably raspy vocals, then uplifting strings and Anna Tivel’s sweet harmonies, as the title track “Brave the Storm” kicks things off humanly and hopefully, a welcome introduction that sets the stage for the disc, hinting that this is a collection you’re likely to be able to settle into and play on repeat.
Next up, “No Eye on the Sparrow” adds a haunting, mellow element, with a “Wicked Game”-ish sadness in the strumming and a foreboding tinge to the vocals. Sneaky-good, after a few listens, this grew into the most memorable song on the album for me, one whose lyrics I’d find myself singing hours after I had last heard the disc.
“My Own Ghost Town” (featuring Anna Tivel and Jeffrey Martin) maintains that haunting aura, with a little bit of a by-the-railroad-tracks flavor mixed in, with occasional vocal power adding energy to a song whose tempo and softness might otherwise encourage mellowness.
“Guide You Back to Me” doesn’t stray far, either, though the ambient music undercurrent and slightly more melancholy tone give the song a newness and originality, subtle enough it takes a few listens to really appreciate it.
“Wild Wild Heart” (featuring Field Report) again leans hard into Fortier’s rasp, climbing aboard a soft, distant music bed that recalls water slowly rippling along a dock, perhaps a boat in the harbor. But it very definitely provides the feeling of relatively – but not quite completely – calm water.
“The Dark End of the Road” (featuring Jesse Terry) has a bit of an energetic, though subtle, guitar hook – yes, Last Year’s Man excels at subtlety. In addition to the first two songs on the disc, this is likely the third of my trio of favorite songs on Brave the Storm.
“Feet of Clay” (featuring The Hackles) seems inquisitive and maybe hopeful, if also tired and worn down.
And “The Valley of Jehoshaphat” closes the album memorably and emotionally. These are the lyrics that will stick with you: “Don’t send your daughters to war. Don’t send your son. Don’t send your baby. There ain’t no chosen one.”
If you’re looking for a well-composed, tightly-assembled, collection of soft, rich-music-bed-driven folk music, this is exactly what you seek. Last Year’s Man, with his comfortable rasp and song-craftsmanship, has assembled just such an album with Brave the Storm.