Set for release on October 22, Smoke and Mirrors (F-Stop/Atlantic) is a return to form for Dennen, taking him back to his roots both sonically and aesthetically yet with more confidence and maturity than ever before. Nowhere is this more evident than the album’s first single “Wild Child,” which is already the #1 added record at Triple A, despite it not being scheduled to impact until next week. Rolling Stone premiered the “joyous” single earlier this month, listen to it here. Beginning today, Smoke and Mirrors is available for preorder on iTunes.
Dennen's wunderkind rise has been impressive. In 2004 Dennen released his self-titled debut, followed quickly by his sophomore LP So Much More (2006,) which spent months on the Billboard Heatseeker chart. The release drew the attention of John Mayer, for whom Dennen opened in 2006 and 2007. In 2008 the artist released his follow-up, Hope for the Hopeless, which debuted at #41 on the Billboard Top 200 and firmly established Dennen as a definitive new voice in modern songwriting. He's worked with Femi Kuti, Natalie Merchant, and Jason Mraz; he's toured with Dave Matthews, Rodrigo y Gabriela, and The John Butler Trio; and he's played Bonarroo, Austin City Limits, Coachella, Outside Lands, and Newport Folk Festival. He's also become the go-to guy for some of the best and most artfully soundtracked contemporary TV shows. His songs have appeared on Scrubs, Grey's Anatomy, Parenthood, Brothers & Sisters, and House among others.
Dennen first started playing guitar and mandolin to amuse the kids while working as a camp counselor. Once Dennen got the feel for writing his own material, he couldn't stop. "It was suddenly like, I kind of need to do this," he remembers.
Dennen spent the next few years touring, and it wasn't until December of 2009 that he had a chance to think about a fourth record. "I had two weeks off from the road, my housemate and I built a studio in our living room and we made demo versions of a bunch of songs," he remembers. "The plan was to crank this album out in early 2010.
Turns out we didn't end up recording until July of that year." Dennen was frustrated. He likes to keep things moving. But the break turned out to be the best thing possible for the record. "Sometimes when you're put against a wall you do your best work," he muses. "While we were waiting to figure out what we were doing with this album I kept writing new songs. One of them was "Sydney (I'll Come Running,)" one of them was "Comeback Kid" and one of them was "Only Rain." And those are the tracks that will really pull people in."
He's right. Several of the songs Dennen wrote last are the first ones you really hear on Loverboy. "Sydney (I'll Come Running)" is a defiant testimony to the endurance of deep love, set to intricate but forceful guitar and mandolin arrangements and accented by choral call-and-response. "Only Rain" is a delicate, moody meditation, the sonic equivalent of a pensive rainy day at the beach. And songs like opening track "Surprise, Surprise" swing with an impressive, easy confidence. That self-assurance comes in part from Dennen's half-decade of experience and part from the fact that he's finally solidified a relationship with the right musicians. "If you want to have a forty-year career you'd better surround yourself with people who will take a bullet for you and for whom you'd do the same," Dennen says. "If you choke you want to look around and see guys that you trust. You want guys you can fail with. And at the same time, if you do something triumphant, you want to be able to look around and see people you really want to share that with too."
After the overwhelming success of Loverboy and the intense promotional tour that followed, Dennen retreated to his mountain house in Northern California and began writing Smoke and Mirrors, finding inspiration in his surroundings and the simplicity of nature. Dennen took the songs to Nashville to record with producer Charlie Peacock (The Civil Wars), eschewing his L.A. comfort zone to work with virtual strangers. Peacock explains, “Brett and I spent a lot of time just building out the arrangements. From the production side, he encouraged me to make every song uniquely its own while keeping it cohesive - and I think we did it. His wonderful music aside, Brett is certainly one of the most whimsical people I've ever produced - a true original.” The resulting 10-song set features Dennen’s strongest and most cohesive collection to date.
Smoke and Mirrors, Dennen’s fifth studio album, is the culmination of his transition from a coffeehouse folk singer to a celebrated and critically acclaimed front man. Standing 6’5 with his trademark, long, red hair, Dennen has been lauded as a break-through success, earning acclaim from Rolling Stone, NPR, Entertainment Weekly, Esquire, USA Today and more, with The Washington Post declaring him “a folk rock revelation.” He has performed on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, NPR and more.