Nominated by the Western Music Association for:
2010 Best Original Song: Equine from the Album of the same name
The Utah born singer/songwriter creates music that not only pays homage to Western's music's finest traditions, but also serves as a passport to today's Mountain West. He does just that again on his sixth album, What a Man's Got To Do, a potent collection of songs filled with interesting characters and eagle-eyed observations on life, love and the indomitable western spirit.
"There's the bond with the animals and the bond with the land. It's something that we all long for," Brenn says of the West's appeal. "The cowboy is the guy that overcomes the odds and rides the bucking horse in the worst of weather in the toughest country. I think there's a little bit of that kind of fortitude and attitude in all of us."
What a Man's Got To Do celebrates that maverick spirit. "Every record represents a chapter in my artistry and I don't try to confine the art to a specific theme," says Hill as he gazes out across a pasture watching his colt Stormy. "This one is a collection of songs that came from the last three or four years of my songwriting. If they make it past my ears, that's the first test. If I believe in a song, if I think that it is really valid to this place and time, I'll stand by it and carry it through."
That passion and conviction comes from an early fascination with words and an appreciation for their impact. "I started writing when I was 14 or 15 years old," recalls the young artist, who grew up reading famed American poets such as Robert Frost. "Writing poetry and short stories always seemed like an escape for me. I liked to find a blank piece of paper and start writing. I'd try to conjure up stories or to connect places, people, and events that were meaningful to me through emotions that everybody could relate to."
Poetry and short stories soon evolved into songs. "Songwriting, to me, is very efficient," says Brenn. "A song lasts three and a half to five minutes. You really present an idea, try to support it, build a melody around it and sort of leave it there for the listener to dig in. The best songwriters to me are those lyricists that present an idea and leave it out there for the audience to digest and interpret. I think that's why my writing evolved into songwriting. Once I got a guitar in my hand, it just kind of fell together."
At 16, he performed at the famed National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, NV. He recorded his first album when he was barely 20 and soon became a popular performer on the Western music circuit. His debut album, Rangefire, earned Brenn the Rising Star Award from the Academy of Western Artists (AWA).
Subsequent albums, such as 1999's Deeper Than Mud and 2001's Trail Through Yesterday continued to advance Brenn's career, with the latter project earning the AWA's Album of the Year. In 2001, he received the Western Music Association's Crescendo Award, and earned a reputation as a young artist whose music filled a key niche. His songs paint a vivid portrait of the modern Mountain West and in doing so they bring that unique culture to music lovers in both rural and urban settings.
Call You Cowboy, released in 2002, not only showcased his evolution as a songwriter and vocalist, but also included Cottonwood and On Avon, two finely crafted poems that demonstrated his gift for cowboy poetry. The accolades continued with the 2004 release of Endangered, which prompted the AWA to name Brenn their male vocalist of the year. Recorded at Nashville's famed Ocean Way studio with producer Eddie Schwartz, Endangered's sonic quality and the lyrical depth in the songs made it a landmark album for Brenn, one that garnered exposure beyond the Western genre as it was embraced by Americana radio as well as stations on the competitive Texas music circuit.
What a Man's Got To Do showcases a gifted artist in full creative stride. Brenn's writing is rife with cinematic imagery that connects the listener to the characters and places in his songs. "Meet Me In McCall," penned for his uncle who passed away, boasts a memorable chorus that places the listener on horseback in some of the most beautiful terrain on earth. "Caffeine" is an up tempo romp that takes a look at modern man's favorite energizer. "If you spend a lot of time on the road out West, you've got to have a little octane in your blood," says Brenn with a smile.
As always, his music reflects the values of the American West, but where some of his previous outings sometimes leaned more toward the nostalgic and offered up a young man's idealistic views on life and love, What a Man's Got To Do reflects a more mature take on the complexities of this world. "The Ballad Of Buffalo Brogan" is a compelling love story with a lyric so vivid you can see the characters as their story unfolds. Yet it's a tale about love and loss that doesn't have a happy ending.
The songs on the album cover a broad range of topics and emotional territory. Now 30 and a father of two young sons, Brenn never lacks for inspiration. "She Loves Me Anyway" is a light-hearted portrait of a relationship in which the wife's love overcomes the husband's shortcomings. Among the album's highlights is the poignant "Simple Things," which celebrates what matters most in life. On the more somber side, "The Ballad of Pogue and Elms" chronicles the killings of two law enforcement officers in a notorious incident.
What a Man's Got To Do marks the first time Brenn has produced his own album. "I know these songs more than anybody," he says. "I hear them as I write them now and I guess that's something that only comes from experience. I wanted to serve the function of producer myself to be true to the songs that I've written. I know I couldn't have done that 10 years ago, but five or six records and having the opportunity to work with great producers who are songwriters themselves, like Ian Tyson and Eddie Schwartz, has allowed me to do that."
In addition to writing, singing and producing, Brenn is very hands on in other aspects of his career. He's toured relentlessly over the past few years and developed a strong sense of how to connect with his audience. Such experience has bolstered his confidence and is evident throughout What a Man's Got To Do. "I know who I'm making this music for and why I'm doing it," he says. "All of that certainly was part of the approach here, even down to the title, What A Man's Got To Do. That's a title that is all about a sense of purpose."
Brenn Hill is a young artist with a very well-defined sense of purpose and the talent to carry it through. "I describe myself as a little bit of George Strait, a little bit of Bruce Springsteen, and a whole lot of Ian Tyson and John Denver," says Brenn, who has been inspired by many kinds of music, but has always known he wanted to make Western music his home. "The music is a way that I can try to bring that lifestyle back to the forefront of people's hearts and minds, and it gives me a sense of purpose. I feel like I'm accomplishing something with my music. If I can activate the people who live this Western lifestyle as well as the people who are fascinated with this lifestyle, maybe I've accomplished something beyond making music."