Rick Brantley could well be the long lost musical love child of Tom Waits and Rickie Lee Jones, and there’s no further evidence needed than his latest, “Hurt People,” available today. He sings, speaks, and sometimes mutters through the verses, telling stories of being righted and wronged and the perspectives gained along the way. His phrasing is both simple and singular: “now Marie Carter was a legend in her time / she broke every back seat and heart in the county line / well her mama popped pills and daddy drank like a sailor on leave / neither ever had two kind words to say to Marie / well I gave her my heart and complete and true / she gave me herself in the only way she knew / she taught me a lesson about pleasure and pain / when you don’t know the difference, well it’s all the same,” he says, leading to a simple hook, “hurt people hurt people.”
Brantley’s imagery in the song is quiet and superb – “he had messed up teeth, he was ugly at best” – and conveys through tight couplets. The song lives on a bed of piano, with electrics, percussion, and a gospel backing choir building delicately alongside. It’s Springsteen pacing the streets of Philadelphia, Rickie Lee Jones singing Zero over the bridges like fluttering pages. As with recent Lo-Fi EP, Brantley’s stripped back much of the veneer – his vocals are the cracked wisdom of too many cigarettes smoked, the choruses a last-row pew prayer skyward.
Though at times a bit preachy – “I guess everybody’s got a scar they just can’t erase / live a little while, you’re gonna have one too / live a little longer, I bet you leave a few” – the song stands as a powerful observation of the way things are, at and without fault for our actions. Though perhaps more powerful were it to throw the protagonist into the ring, it’s evocative nonetheless. Sure, it’s imperfect, but so are people, and there’s beauty in that.
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