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Grand Forks tells the story of the people hurt by the '97 flood in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

Music Review: Tom Brosseau – Grand Forks

Behind the pastoral vocals and the classic arrangements, Grand Forks is, in the most simplistic terms, a good folk album. Traditional folk music, which got its name because it's music by and about common people, is an expression of a way of life, and this is exactly what Brosseau does. He weaves tales of life and the lives of those who reside in Grand Forks, North Dakota – his home town.

A concept album, there is a common theme to all the songs – the flood of 1997. Stories, not only of the disaster but the spirit of the people who lived through it, run from beginning to end of the album much the same way the waters welled and rose from their banks. The most obvious is the album closer, "97 Flood." Stylistically true to the format, it is backed with a formula guitar arrangement; his tale personifies the raging waters, referring to it as "her" and singing of the destruction she brings. Beyond the devastation is the deeper tale of how a community pulls together to battle the storm, and then rebuild in the aftermath. "97 Flood" is sedate and ends Grand Folk on a powerful note.

In contrast, the opening song, "I Fly Wherever I Go" is a toe-tapping, upbeat, and uplifting song. It's also about overcoming obstacles, but doesn't have the same overwhelming doom and gloom feel. It's more a beacon in the storm, a song of hope and optimism. We (as a community) will overcome this tragedy is the point of the folk tale Brosseau tells, and that seems to be the message he wants the listener to walk away from the album with.

On his website, he describes the album. "Grand Forks is about hope and success over obstacles, the coming together of a community, the endurance and hardship and heartache, homelessness and loss; it is about the future, it is about the past." And he does so in a very traditional style that will be enjoyed by anyone who is a fan of folk music in its purest form.

Jimmy Rodgers, Woody Guthrie and early Dylan are cited as influences to Brosseau, and that list gives you a very good representation of both the sound and his pure-folk storytelling style. He's not only an inspired poet, but is gifted in the way he sets those poems to music.

Brosseau penned all the songs on the album, with the exception of the violin parts of "Fork in the Road" and "Blue Part O' the Windshield," which were written and played by Grammy winning classical violinist Hilary Hahn. "Fork in the Road" is a duet with John Doe and the two voices blend nicely on this eerie and mournful sounding song. Doe, who is know for his role as a vocalist and bass player for the LA-based punk/alternative band X, also served as a co-producer.

Grand Forks was produced by Gregory Page and co-produced by John Doe and is available on the Loveless Records label. The liner notes contain interesting commentary on both the flood and Brosseau's music from Patricia Owens, former Mayor of Grand Forks, North Dakota and Ed Schafer, a former governor of the state. Information about this and his other releases can be found on his official website and his Myspace profile page.

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