Jonathan Balzano Brookes
Ten long years ago, when the Portland indie-rock band Phantom Buffalo wandered over the horizon, never to be seen again, fans like me were left standing around, dazed and speechless with awe. They’d just released their masterpiece, Tadaloora, a concept album of breathtaking beauty and psychedelic wonder that has since earned that most exalted compliment: timeless.
The new solo album by Buffalo singer-guitarist Jonathan Balzano Brookes, The Greathart, released on the French label Microcultures, returns us to the forested fantasy lands that inspired Tadaloora. Armed only with an acoustic guitar, a piano, and his reedy, high-tenor voice, Jonny B.B. (as the fan-girls used to call him) can’t recreate the rich sonic realm the full band once inhabited, but he manages to conjure more than a little of its magic.
Full disclosure: Balzano Brookes is, so far as I can tell, not an ordinary human being. I strongly suspect he’s an angel of some sort, a being of pure light sent here to gently nudge humanity onto the righteous path of peace and love and ecological harmony. I’m not joking. In person, he’s the kindest and gentlest dude you’ll ever meet, and I’ve never detected a hint of genuine anger or bitterness in any song he’s recorded for public consumption.
This is crucial to note, because if you approach The Greathart with any cynicism in your heart whatsoever, you’ll miss its bountiful charms. This is, essentially, children’s music, but without any of the cloying, goofy, sing-song crap the music industry assumes kids want. It’s songcraft aimed at the innocence within us all.
I’m guessing that’s Jonny BB’s young daughter singing with him on the chorus of opener “Remember Light,” a thinly veiled political allegory decrying this nation’s partisan division. The rest of the album is also allegorical, but from the title track onward we’re immersed in an enchanted woodland, home of The Greathart, a mythical beast with an important message for humanity: “May all the sick and troubled souls / Find comfort now, don’t lose your hold / May babies brought into the world / Have food to eat and loving homes.”
What pure joy it is to hear the rest of the tale! The Huntress stalking the Greathart through the forest, the kindly shepherd imparting advice by a campfire, the tragically misunderstood Cinnamon Witch — all described in a tender singing voice wrapped in beautiful melodies and folk-pop hooks.
Despair not, comrades and children of comrades! Listen to The Greathart and walk toward the light!