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‘Where We Begin’ a comfortable, quiet nostalgia

March 31st, 2011

It’s been a long two years since Sam Brenner graduated from John Carroll in 2009.  He hasn’t exactly become a household name, but he’s taken a step up from being the opening act at a spring concert.

Last week his newest release “Where We Begin” was made available on iTunes.

It’s not too often we get to hear about recent Carroll graduates getting recognition in the music world.

It is certainly worth following Brenner’s career progress, if only to keep tabs on somebody who went here.

That said, “Where We Begin” is in no way perfect, and you shouldn’t expect it to be.  Brenner’s sound is very easy to identify, and he’s comfortable staying within that niche.

If you’re picking up his record you know what you’re getting into: he likes Jack Johnson and John Mayer, and so do you.

He doesn’t stray too far from the acoustic rock path on this record, and it would be wrong to expect him to.

All nine of the album’s tracks fit rather securely in this established form.

He’s aware of the sound he wants to end up with and doesn’t try to be something he isn’t.

While it’s admirable that he doesn’t stretch himself beyond his limits, it would still be interesting to see him reach past the slightly predictable pop that “Where We Begin” is rooted in.

It might be a bit of a leap, but based on this record I would guess that Brenner is missing John Carroll more than he is willing to admit.  The biggest themes “Where We Begin” carries with it are all tied directly to memories.

They range from upbeat and optimistic to outright regret.  Again, there is not anything earth-shattering presented here, but it would be out of place if there were.

The genre and style in which Brenner operates dictate, to an extent, what themes he can and can’t cover in his music.  It isn’t possible to address huge issues with four chords and a pop backtrack.

Instead Brenner sticks to what works: love and remembering, and, because he went here, applying the ideas he presents to JCU makes “Where We Begin” take a totally different turn.

Listening with this tongue-in-cheek method, the album paints Brenner to be a man forced to grow up and move on before he was ready to.

He doesn’t want to get a job; he only wants to sign up for classes one last time.

As pointless as forcing the album to be about this campus may be, there is still some merit to the idea.   Brenner attended school here, he launched his music career here, and in some ways he is always going to be tied to the school that put him on stage originally.

“Where We Begin” isn’t going to revolutionize the music industry, but it is still a work that is inextricably tied directly to this campus.