Those compositions on this album are full of humor and charm, wisdom and wit, and provide apt and decisive observance of the world around us. His compositions are, of course, well-suited to his easy vocal style and his chosen musical support is equally well-suited to the work at hand. That group is comprised of John Harkins on piano, Brendan Clarke on bass, Andrew Dickeson on drums, with Steve Brien on guitar, Steve Crum on trumpet, and Glen Berger on saxes and alto flutes. Each of these guys make impressive and noteworthy contributions to the whole.
Bruce’s wit is seen from the outset in the title track, Death of Expertise, in which he bemoans the substitution of wiles for wisdom, the appeal to Google in the place of real research or, more succinctly, the loss of the educated mind in favor of the opinionated one. Pay attention to the tightly delivered lyrics and their intrinsic humor. All the while, the trumpet work of Steve Crum stands out warmly with great work from Harkins’ piano and the bass and drums.
They’re Everywhere is a cool turn at bossa nova with more of what has become Bruce’s sly humor. While Antonio Carlos Jobim may have eulogized the pretty girls everywhere, Bruce laments the surveillance culture that is waiting to catch you in your misdeeds. He returns to the bossa with Back in the Day, a short number that reminds us of where we were and how far we have come—some might say fallen.
Find Three Things to Be Grateful For is a fun and optimistic look at eschewing despair and seizing what is good and joyous. Harkins’ piano solo is a worthwhile attention-grabber. The rhythm section keeps the song hopping along its happy path and Bruce’s delivery is spot-on. In the end, gratitude will get you through the day.
Love Makes Us Who We Are is just so fine. Who we love and how we love and how we long to love is the best descriptor of us and Bruce expresses it so well. His chord changes and his slides within the notes is vocal artistry. I love this song so much.
A Mind is a Terrible Thing is a fascinating look at Bruce’s own psychological examination of himself. It is observation without diagnosis and manages to find hope and healing, even amidst pain and heartache. It is melancholy without being maudlin and, in the end, optimism triumphs. You’ve got to love Glen Berger’s soprano sax outro.
Doreen is one quirky tune. Thing of My Funny Valentine with an even darker turn. Again, Harkins is cool in accompaniment on the piano. Love Always Wins is the final word in an era of division and anger, even hatred. It is a sentiment that has taken hold of every debate from politics to theology. “One thing’s for sure/Love will endure.” Steve Crum offers up a sweet trumpet solo. Play this one over and over until you get it.
It leads nicely into To Find Things Out, Bruce’s bright look at learning the lessons life so relentlessly teaches us. It is upbeat and lively and works so brilliantly with the artists in their contributions. We Click is just as uplifting in its list of things that “click.” Think of Jobim’s Aguas de Marco (Waters of March) and the listing of things we see in March. Then Bruce takes a laughing look at ourselves with Losers Are People Too. He says, “Losers, we’re under attack/We might as well be Amish/’Cause we don’t fight back.” It is a hilarious look at those of us who simply let everything slide.
Giving Up Is Not An Option brings along a gentle swing that is as catchy as anything on the album. Crum gets another sweet trumpet solo that is worth hearing closely. He follows that with a frank look at ourselves and our lives in We’re Up We’re Down. While the song is delivered with bright hope, it is the corollary of Giving Up Is Not An Option. Steve Brien gets his best solo on guitar here. He challenges us to avoid despair and to cling to the hope we have.
Bruce concludes the album with The Music Plays Again. Music is the metaphor for the love between two people who experience the ebbs and flows of the relationship. It is the most thoroughly romantic song on the album and is full of warmth and reflection. It is an elegy of the healing power of love.
Death of Expertise in its entirety is an ode to love and healing in the midst of anguish and disappointment. Even with his humorous sidelong glance at the way we are, Bruce Brown always offers the hope of how we can be.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl