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Most musicians have reasons as to why they start writing and composing music. Often enough it seems that hard times are a catalyst for people to turn to writing music. I have met Breanne Marie Schlies and have seen her play on a few occasions and she always seemed to have a friendly and happy disposition and the originals and covers that I heard never struck me as particularly angry. It wasn’t until when I saw her play a singer-songwriter competition at Beaner’s in January that I realized how even people who come across as happy and down to earth can still be affected to life’s ups and downs. After she lost her brother in an automobile accident due to a driver who was under the influence of medications and the loss of her father, she turned to music as an outlet. “If it weren’t for my music offering me moments of peace I would go crazy or spiral into depression. My music keeps me alive. No joke, and I’m not trying to be corny like some Oprah special. I believe in it’s healing abilities, because it works,” stated Schlies.
Keeping that in mind, the album is aptly named. This album hinges a lot on family and loss. There are several songs on the album that deal with family. Track two on the album is titled “Good Bad Man,” which is about a colorful father figure. Schlies describes a drinking and smoking country man with grease on his hands and clothes and kind of a dirty sense of humor but also a man who loves his family and is ready to help those in need. “My Daddy was a good bad man, he done some bad things with his old worn hands, but he loved his Mama his wife and us kids, doing the best he could is what he did,” goes a part of the chorus. This song and several other tracks on this album exemplifies an older sounding country feel. “The influences on the real twangy country songs are Grand Ole Opry artists, it’s one of my favorite music genres. I adore Dolly Parton. I like the simplicity of classic country and the story-telling of artists like Johnny Cash and Kenny Rogers,” noted Schlies on her sound. The song “Grandpa is More Than Meets the Eye” is also quite a descriptive song of a family member of Schlies’.
Songs such as “What Does it Take?” brings out a message of dealing with life struggles. “What does it take to take your life, sum it up, then decide it’s time to throw it away? It’s been too long since you’ve felt okay,” goes the opening line of this song that acknowledges pain, but also notes emerging from such burdens. The song was written by Evan Teplar who regularly plays with Schlies and is featured on the album.
Towards the end of the album is the song “Country Song,” which oddly enough is perhaps the very least country song on the album. This sentimental song is driven by a beautiful yet simple piano part and brings out a trumpet played by a former classmate of Schlies’. “Country Song was meant to have piano and violin. The violin didn’t work out. I was playing my trumpet to the rough mix at home and liked the sound. I’ve played trumpet since seventh grade. I will always be a trumpeter, till the day I die. So, I called my high school band teacher and he sent me his son Matthew Leibfried to play in the studio. I used to be in band with Matt. He was a grade younger than me and always first chair because he’s got mad skills. He did the recording in three takes. I teared up in the studio, it was perfection,” said Schlies of Leibfried’s contribution to the album. It would have been interesting to have had a violin track on this song, but the somber trumpet on the song really pulls it together. In contemporary music it seems rare to hear brass instruments except in ska or funk bands.
The last track on the album is the extended version of “March 16th,” which is also track four in it’s shorter version on the album. All of the songs on this album are personal to some degree or another, but this track really stands out both in genuine feeling and Schlies’ vocals. The song deals with the account of her brother and his best friend’s death in an automobile accident. The album ends with a sort of spoken verse diatribe that goes over a beautifully sung vocal part. The juxtaposition between the spoken and sung parts done both by Schlies has quite an impact and brings me back to when I realized at the songwriter competition that there is more to Schlies’ music than I had originally given her credit for. “I’ll spend the rest of my life searching for peace in everything I do. Love those I’m with with, leave those you hate and forever choose to be happy,” goes the ending lines of the album.
Although Schlies put her heart in soul into this album, she didn’t do it alone. For the last few years she has been working with her partner, now fiance, Evan Tepler on guitar. The album also credits Mark Glen on bass who has contributed on countless projects around the area, Amy Ugstad on drums, Matt Sjelin on piano, and Tim Cheesebrow on mandolin.
Another notable person who also helped with the solid outcome of this album is Chris Allen who worked with Schlies on vocals. “I worked with Chris Allen on a project before. He’s great at coaching vocals and he used to work with artists in Nashville. He knows country music. I asked him to help coach me on vocals and I can’t even tell you how grateful I am for his help,” stated Schlies.
The overall tightness of this album can also be credited to Eric Swanson from Sacred Heart Studios who is credited for recording, mixing and mastering. Swanson is a tremendously consistent engineer in the area and he did a great job on this album. Between the fullness in Schlies’ vocals throughout and being able to make the backing instruments sit where they should, it’s just another well done album on Swanson’s part. “He was great. I don’t think he had any idea what to expect from me. I was such a newbie,” stated Schlies.
Breanne Marie will be playing with Evan Tepler at Fitger’s Brewhouse Wednesday, March 20 after 9 p.m.