In Living Cover
Great Depression Records
By Al Kaufman
Jan Brannan is not a happy guy. He is a self-described “antisocial misanthrope.” His Christmas song is titled “Christmas Really Sucks.” His record company is called Great Depression Records. He hates dogs, Air Canada, and the Best Buy on 23rd and 6th in Manhattan. He is a singer/songwriter who happens to be gay, but who refuses to play gay events because he does not want to be pigeon-hold a “gay artist.” He writes of gay affairs, but only in the same way that straight artists write of straight affairs. It’s what they know. And in much the same way that straight artists like Cher and Cyndi Lauper rely on the gay audience to keep their careers going, so too does Brannan rely on the straight crowd to love and support him.
There’s a lot to love. Brannan has a gorgeous, angelic voice that would sound impassioned reading a McDonald’s menu. In Living Cover, his second full-length CD, consists of seven covers sandwiched between two originals. Brannan, who has turned N.W.A.’s rap anthem “Fuck tha Police” into a folk song on stage, is a little less adventurous here. Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” is not necessary (shakers notwithstanding) and his straight ahead reading of the Verve Pipe’s “The Freshman” offers nothing new.
He turns The Cranberries’ bombastic political hit “Zombie” into a stunning personal plea. And his vibrant, a capella, multi-tracked take on Ani DiFranco’s “Both Hands” is gripping.
The CD opens with an original track, “Beautifully,” which may very well be the best thing on this CD. With lines like “It’s not that you’re not beautiful/You’re just not beautiful to me,” it perfectly captures the essence of Brannan; talented, sensitive, yet emotionally detached. The other Brannan original, “Drowning,” unfortunately crosses the line into maudlin. It talks too much of self-mutilation, suicide, and the evil of the world. It’s the typical terrain that Brannan has trod before, but not as blatantly. It’s a pity that it is the last track on an otherwise wonderful CD.
Jay Brannan plays Rock and Roll Hotel in Washington D.C., August 26.