Listening to Cait Brennan’s new album is a bit like tuning into some hip, mythical radio station, broadcasting nothing but the coolest tunes of the seventies. There’s a bit of David Bowie playing, then a mouthful of Marc Bolan, a nice-sized helping of Harry Nilsson, the perfect amount of Emmitt Rhodes. That’s what it’s like listening to the incandescent new disc, Debutante. Everything old is new again. And when Brennan does her thing, all of these influences are not just revived but energized.
“I had a sort of strange upbringing,” says the warm, chatty Brennan. “I was recognized as a sort of musical savant very early. I began life in a tiny trailer with my parents in Arizona and was actually making demos-well, singing into a tape recorder-by the time I was five. The tapes were lost, but from that point on I was making up songs and often recording them.”
Then things got really weird.
Over the next few years, Brennan toured the country with her great-grandmother, a seamstress for thoroughbred horse racing. Brennan soaked up every kind of music, from Bowie to Bakersfield Country. As well as the above-mentioned quirky Popsters of the seventies scene. Unlike a lot of today’s up-and-comers who think of music as a career choice, Brennan speaks of such sounds as lifesaving.
“In all those dark times, when I felt most lost and alone, music was what got me through. Big Star’s Third, Husker Du’s Warehouse, Nick Drake, The Undertones, Bert Jansch. That music kept me from giving up.”
And led to the glorious, Debutante. From the crashing Pop thunder of “Good Morning And Goodnight” (think a desperate Harry Nilsson backed by a punkish ELO), to the White Album-era ballad of “Dear Arthur,” to the forlorn, Bowie-esque beauty of “Showman,” Debutante depicts an artist remarkably conversant with the last forty years of Pop, who is able to blend her influences and obsessions into one glimmering musical gem after another.
Now that we have lost that glorious weirdo, David Bowie, it’s also nice to know that a new one, Cait Brennan, is hovering into view. Without making it her thesis statement, this eclectic artist with her own rainbow of Pop, has another bright color to show the folks out there. Brennan has been proudly transgender for a number of years. Which feels like a bit of solace for those of us who felt Bowie’s loss so keenly. In other words, it’s nice to have a new songwriter out there, who is so … out there!
“I don’t ever make a big point of it,” says Brennan. “But I’d like to think that my fluid gender, like my music, is about inclusion. Whether it’s my eclectic influences, my look, my offbeat backstory, I believe this stuff will appeal to all the kids who feel out of place and discriminated against. I went through the same kind of stuff as a child. And I’m not just here, I’m thriving.”
If you listen to Debutante, you may just be inspired to paint your fingernails a glossy color and splash your face with makeup. Virtually, at least. Yes, the stuff is that wonderfully coo coo. Plus, Brennan colors way outside the lines. And for many of us, waiting for music that hews to no particular party line? That is good news indeed.