It’s been a year since Canadian country star Dean Brody finally said farewell to his Nova Scotia home and set up shop in Nashville, where the B.C.-born songwriter first kickstarted his career back in 2004.
The five or so years he spent here were productive ones, centred around hit albums like Dirt, Crop Circles, Gypsy Road and his latest, 2016’s Beautiful Freakshow, which earned him the 2017 Canadian Country Music Award for Fan’s Choice Entertainer of the Year.
Brody’s uncanny instincts for fusing country, rock, pop and even reggae have made him one of the most progressive of popular Canadian country acts, and for most of the past year he’s been in Tennessee concentrating on that most fundamental skill of songwriting.
It probably also helps to be in the same town as his longtime production partner Matt Rovey, but overall Brody just missed being in a place that eats, drinks and sleeps music every day, all year round.
“It’s been a good year,” says the easygoing Canadian hitmaker, over the phone from Nashville. “The creative community is so strong here, with so many songwriters and musicians and performers, it’s just a great place for me to be right now.
“It was good to be in Nova Scotia, but sometimes I need to be around that kind of community. There’s a lot of talent there on the East Coast, but Nashville has these incredible people everywhere you go, it’s just mind-blowing.”
Starting this week, Brody is out of the studio and back on the Trans-Canada Highway, kicking off his Dirt Road Stories Tour featuring special guest Jessica Mitchell. That tour visits the Homburg Theatre at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown on Thursday, Oct. 25.
It’ll be a more up-close-and-personal approach compared to his last Scotiabank Centre show in 2015, but Brody seems comfortable in almost any setting, and looks forward to the kind of casual atmosphere an acoustic theatre show generates.
“They’re so different from the big stage,” he says. “In an arena, there’s literally a moat in front of you, with a barrier, and the stage is eight feet high. The connection with the audience isn’t as intimate, and you can’t be as vulnerable.
“The theatre shows, you feel a little bit more like a fish in a fish bowl, and I mean that as a good thing. I love being able to connect with people on that level, and bring a show to them that is so much more personal. It’s almost like a kitchen party, and that’s how we style this show. The backdrop is literally a kitchen, we’ll sit around the table and play some music.”
It’s been exactly two years since the release of Beautiful Freakshow; that record came out of the gate strong with the hit single Bush Party, followed by four more, like the title track featuring Halifax rapper Shevy Price and the honky tonk toe-tapper Soggy Bottom Summer. Many of those songs will be featured in a mix of solo acoustic and band performances, featuring Dobro, accordion, pump organ and other unplugged instruments.
Brody says he’ll probably try and feature a fresh song or two to try out on the audience, but at the same time he doesn’t want to take listeners too far into unfamiliar territory just yet.
“The only problem with that is, as soon as you bring out a new one, you have to get rid of a hit,” he explains. “It’s a good problem to have, but we’re going over the setlist now, and it’s like, ‘Oh man, if we do this song, then we have to kick out one of those, but everybody loves that song, so what do we do?’
“So we’ll probably do one or two new ones, but the show is more about things like doing an acoustic version of Bring Down the House. Most of these songs are going to sound like new versions anyway, because they’d be impossible to pull off like the record. An acoustic Bring Down the House is going to be quite different from the original, although it started with me on a banjo going ‘plunk plunk plunk,’ y’know?”
While the tour acts as a pleasant break from writing and prepping for the next record, Brody says deconstructing his hits with his band is a great way to remind himself of what the roots of the songs are, and get back to the start of that evolutionary process of creating them.
He says he has no plans at the moment to do a live or studio recording in this more relaxed format, but he doesn’t rule it out either. “I think some bluegrass versions would be great, or even an album of newly written bluegrass material. I think that would be fun.
“I love that mountain/Appalachian kind of sound, it would certainly be fun to do a record that way.”
Other songs he looks forward to present in the Dirt Road Stories format include Bush Party — “I think that one’s going to surprise people.” — Bounty, and an early track he wrote with Rovey called This Old Raft that he says is practically a bluegrass song anyway.
“Little Yellow Blanket and Mountain Man will sound awesome acoustically, Dirt will be lots of fun,” he says. “It’s exciting to have this kind of instrumentation, and there’ll be a lot more emphasis on vocals as well, we’ll be doing lots of harmonies and that kind of thing.
“It’s a lot more transparent from when we do the big show and there’s so much noise and loudness going on.”
After the East Coast, Brody’s tour continues across the country before it winds up in early December in Cranbrook, B.C., just down the road from where he grew up in Jaffray, working in a sawmill and picking out tunes on an acoustic guitar. There’s a full-circle aspect to the tour that appeals to him, as well as the idea of the end-of-year breather he and his band will take before they get back to work on the next project.
“I think we all need a week or two at the end of a long tour before any of us even think about touching an instrument again,” he says. “You live and breathe music for two straight months on tour, and I think during that period there will still be a lot of creative moments.
“That usually happens because you’re out there, and you’ve got a guitar around you all the time, and other musicians, so creatively it’ll be a lot of fun to tour this way as well.”
For ticket information about Dean Brody’s Dirt Road Stories Tour, contact the Confederation Centre box office, or visit www.deanbrody.com.