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Authentic country is the goal on new Breanne Marie LP

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When it comes to country music, authenticity is a valued trait. It's the thing that separates the real deals from the wannabes. Call it what you want: legitimacy, credibility, what have you — it's that x-factor that can take a simple song about heartbreak or struggle and imbue it with a richness that can't be bought.

On Breanne Marie's Bandcamp site, there's a bit of her bio stating her music is "authentic, heartfelt, pure country, the kind that would bring a smile to the face of George Jones and Tammy Wynette." Aside from the fact it implies that Jones and Wynette share a face, and aside from the fact that both of them are in fact dead, and so they are incapable of smiling, the claim there is that Marie's music is good because it's real.

This can be debated. Marie's new record "Wildflowers and Tumbleweeds" is comprised of country music that aims to be the true, gritty Real McCoy stuff, but it actually comes off as a person's sincere attempt at being something they really aren't.

Marie's first two releases ("Six Strings of Peace and Sanity" and the "Timothy John EP") were both, to be frank, largely poor attempts at a dusty, backroad, hard luck country sound. The issue then, as well as now, is that Marie isn't convincing in that guise. There's just something missing, and a lot of the problem is she seems to be putting on a character. She's trying too hard, too much of the time, and this is audible.

On her new LP, Marie has made improvements, to be sure. Her overall sound is much more pleasing to listen to, as she's gelled with her backing band, and the resulting music is richer and more rewarding. A song like "Ain't Been Home" feels suitably lush while also a little rickety and live-sounding, like country probably should be. On a more uptempo number like "Rocking Horse," the pedal steel sounds nice, and the drums are bouncy and dancey.

But the problems Marie's encountered in the past are still present, if less so. The most notable issue is that her singing is often quite substandard. She regularly sings notes in a breathy, nasal way that is made much more troubling by the fact that the notes she's reaching for tend to elude her. Take something like "Carousel," which begins with Marie singing a cappella — sadly, she does so in an off-key and somewhat piercing way. When her voice is more suited to the song and the key that it's in — as on "Would You?" — she sounds much better and much more listenable.

Another issue is the on-again, off-again quasi-Southern accent she employs. It pops up all over the album, mostly in places where the music is more uptempo. It's a huge issue, because it comes and goes. If she was from the South, it would be present throughout, but she drops it and picks it up seemingly when she wants to "countrify" a moment or a lyric, and it never works. Because it's not authentic.

There's that word, again: authenticity. If the goal is authenticity, you've already failed. The goal should be to just be yourself, whether you're from Georgia or Minnesota or New York. If you're playing country music, you should play it your way, in your authentic voice. If you're reaching for a voice that isn't yours, the recording picks it up and it exposes you. Marie's problem is she seems to want to be something she's just not. It isn't that she sounds insincere — to the contrary, she sounds quite invested — it's that she is too often engaged in a kind of mimicry, a desire to sound a certain way that seems "country" and "authentic" but isn't. No tumbleweeds in Duluth, y'know?

But, again, she's improving, and her work ethic is notable. Perhaps, with time, her voice will come into its own, and her songwriting will mature, and she'll hit the target she's been aiming at. This new LP, though, is a miss.

Artist: Breanne Marie and the Front Porch Sinners

Album: "Wildflowers and Tumbleweeds"

Recorded at: Sparta Sound by Rich Mattson

Website: breannemarie.bandcamp.com

Personnel: Breanne Marie (vocals, guitar), Evan Tepler (guitar), Ben Roselius (guitar), Glenn Maloney (bass), Johnny Peterson (pedal steel), John LaMar (drums), Matt Sjelin (piano)

Listen to "Carousel" at duluthnewstribune.com.

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