Brandy Zdan inhabits the crossroads where rock and pop meet. It’s a crowded junction where the signposts were long ago trampled underfoot, leaving the artists carte blanche to appropriate whatever suits of both genre’s. Done correctly, the music is seamless, the direction of travel fresh and exciting. The not so good examples run to the roadside and merge into a sea of bland power chords and unoriginal love songs. And then there are the difficult children, the ones who straddle both positions on the road. Zdan edges into this last category, but whatever she leaves by the gutter is strictly in the minority.
Originally a proponent of roots music, Zdan has a long list of recorded credits to her name, including three EP length releases under her own name and a brace of albums as one half of Twilight Hotel, for which she shared Juno award nominations. Most recently, she threw shapes for the Trishas, but this eponymous disc represents the most focused vision yet of the multi-instrumentalists musical journey.
For the most part, the vision, that of a guitar-led nod to the harder-edged 70s FM rock sound, succeeds. Opener Back On You wouldn’t sound out of place on a mid-career Pat Benatar record, all exploding chorus, tub-thumping drumming and fuzzy guitar. The middle-eight is genuinely thrilling and makes you want to dance. The next two tracks can’t compare; Dawn Is My Enemy aims for T-Rex but the six-string sounds more like a lawnmower and Cut ‘N Run puts the brakes on slightly, showcases her way with a melody and her fine voice, but doesn’t get the blood pumping enough.
Love To A Ghost (interesting imagery if nothing else) includes an opening line – ‘Am I the octopus, am I the eel?’ – unlikely to win any Novello’s, but it gets better and better as it goes on and precedes a run of three tracks that pull the album up by its bootstraps.Only The Sad Songs is the first point at which Zdan’s voice truly lives and breathes the lyric. It’s a slower number that builds to the end, features some great guitar work and more hooks than a fishing competition. What’s It All For’s whipcrack of a snare interrupts a series of statements that leave you in no doubt about Zdan’s appetites and the slow end is a nice touch. Of equal weight with Only The Sad Songs is the tightly constructed Running For A Song – ‘You’ll never see me naked’ – that echoes The Runaway’s at their glorious pop best, handclaps and exuberance given free rein.
People Like Us and the excellent The Courtship Of Wild Horses prove she can slow the tempo and retain the menace and mystery, and closer More Of A Man adds electronic beats and a short, sharp Smithereens riff. It’s a joyful end, and a nice change from the typically reflective choices a lot of artists choose to sign off with. Strong opener aside, the album almost falls before the first hurdle, but dusts itself down and makes every effort to regain ground before the end and does so admirably. Radio play during a hot Summer and Zdan may be worth a place bet. Regardless, she’s done enough to make me want to buy a denim jacket.