Music » Music Features

Heir apparent

Brian Rath is emerging singer-songwriter royalty


Another one was getting out. Rock 'n' roll troubadour Joff Wilson was finally pulling up Rochester stakes to hang in the Big Apple. The cat had exuded Bowery all along anyway.

Fans, friends, and fellow musicians gathered at Monty's Krown recently to send Wilson off, hoist a pint, and wish him well. The Krown was crowded and rowdy. The throng's volume, buzz, and steam went head to head with the bands on the tiny stage.

Just prior to Wilson's farewell set, an unassuming, nondescript young man in a black sport coat took the stage with a beer and a guitar. He began to play, and the noise dialed down to barely a murmur. I could hear the woman next to me cracking her gum. A couple of bottles clinked.

"He has the voice of God," someone whispered.

For the next 20 minutes or so Brian Rath and his guitar --- his acoustic guitar --- held the crowd's attention; their ears and eyeballs were glued.

"I always bring my A-game vocally," he says.

But "A-game" alludes to effort. And part of Rath's allure is the apparent ease in which the songs roll off his tongue --- his casual demeanor and total lack of shuck 'n' jive.

There's just something about him.

"I hesitate to use the word 'soul,'" he says. "I put a lot of feeling into it. I'm influenced by so much voice-wise. I'll hint at a style --- it might just be in a line. I'm just open to different sounds."

Born in Rochester, Rath honed his chops in Boston-area coffeehouses --- Club Passim, The Cantub Lounge, The Middle East --- while majoring in English at Northeastern University.

The music that emerged is straightforward and deceptively simple. There are subtleties and allusions lying just below the surface. And as opposed to most singer-songwriters brandishing guitars, Rath isn't really all that folk. He plays more of a bluesy madrigal --- if that makes any sense --- plucking and strumming with a simple finger style that doesn't crowd the melody or the lyrics. For it's the lyrics where Rath shines, despite the accolades and salvos for his golden tenor.

"I studied a lot of poetry, I liked lyrics," he says. "That was always my favorite part of getting an album, when lyrics were printed and I could follow along. It immediately gets me into the song than if I was just to hear the music."

Rath's lyrics are crystal. Throughout his various lyrical phases he has not been one to wallow in the abstract.

"I think early on I definitely had a phase where I was doing unrequited love, heartbreak," he says.

So basically he got dumped.

"Yeah," he says. "That's exactly what happened. I just kind of got burned for the first time. That was kind of the start of it. And I always liked singing."

"Said I treated you bad / Four years later, you're sad / But I was 21 old / I got a way to fall down / You called me at three in the morning / I dropped dead, you gave me no warning," Rath sings in "21 Old."

"Some songs I think you want people to hear," he says. "And sometimes they're just for you. It's just like your way of recognizing a certain part of your life, commenting on it, and then putting it away, shelving it, and then moving on."

Rath addresses other issues with wry humor and keen wit, peppering his songs with phrases about "hypocrites with haircuts," people with "24 carat secrets" in their eyes, and "dirty hands that are quick to shake, never knowing what's at stake."

And as stinging as his observations may be, Rath doesn't get too fired up.

"I'm not so much into that anger vibe right now in my life," he says before reconsidering. "I can definitely tap into some anger. I just don't know if I could do it and make it sound that good."

Though an official album isn't out yet, assorted demo CDs are floating around with up to 10 cuts on them. Rath records in a makeshift studio in his basement in Chili. And he has begun to work with other musicians, like Wilson-disciple Nate Coffee.

With a five-song EP in the works with Coffee, Rath wants to put together an electric band "more in the line of the Dylan sound," he says. But he won't forgo the simplicity of his voice, his guitar, and a beer.

"I wanna do both basically," he says, "because I'm very interested in rock bands. That's what I listen to."

So in the rock 'n' roll continuum, an heir apparent to Wilson's recently vacated throne emerges. It's what we'll listen to.

Brian Rath will play Friday, August 5, at Daily Perks Coffee House, 389 Gregory Street, 230-5274, 8 p.m. $4. All ages.