At the tender age of sixteen, Sammy Brue has attracted attention from the likes of Rolling Stone, The Fader and The New Yorker. With a polished, confident sound, his brand of acoustic Americana recalls the well-established blues rock and indie-folk bands who have stormed the albums charts over the past decade. Tellingly, Ben Tanner and John Paul White, members of Alabama Shakes and the Civil Wars respectively, served as producers on I Am Nice. Despite having previously released two self-released EPs to critical acclaim, his debut full-length offers a more developed sound, with the longer track-list providing more space to develop artistically.
Dealing with fairly standard themes — love, heart-break, jealousy — from a teenage perspective, I Am Nice is sure to offer the listener some laid-back easy-listening. Brue’s twangy vocals offer something of a retro touch, and comparisons have been made to Bob Dylan. However, while Brue’s lyrics have a similar confessional aspect to them as the Nobel laureate, they lack the wry humour, the off-beat insight or the experience to really merit such a comparison. Not to say that Brue lacks skill as a songwriter, there are plenty examples of unexpected lyricism, for example, the rather quaint line; ’winning you is almost as good as a rich man’s boots,’ which opens I Never Said. This simile is particularly representative of Brue’s songwriting style, where the lyrics’ charm stems from a naivety, from a freshness free from self-consciousness. He doesn’t seem overly preoccupied with offering anything particularly ground-breaking from a lyrical perspective, although he compensates with the honesty and the intensity which go hand-in-hand with adolescent love.
Brue is clearly a talented musician, but one can’t help but wonder if he’s come at the wrong time — even if the trend for indie-folk and Americana hasn’t quite died-out, it certainly feels a bit tired and over-done. Tellingly, the finest track on the album I’m Not Your Man deviates slightly from this format, where its quicker tempo and catchy chorus have something more of a rocky, bluesy feel.
All in all, a highly skilled and pleasant release, particularly for a debut and especially for such a young musician. However, the plaintive note of most songs can become quite tiresome after repeated listening. Lastly, while the timbre of Brue’s voice is pleasant, his range is clearly quite limited, with the result being that it sounds quite strained when attempting the higher notes required to give some vocal variation.
Sammy Brue’s new album comes out on June 16th via New West Records