Preview Last Man Standing by Brother Roy.
Last Man Standing by Brother Roy
It’s hard to argue with true believers. On his debut album Last Man Standing, Brother Roy reveals his devotion to the rock and roll cannon with a set of tunes that are both finely crafted and filled with conviction.
Billed as New York City’s rock and roll missionary, Brother Roy certainly makes urban music. The album is a sophisticated stew of ballads, rock and roll, and rhythm and blues tunes. The music features a large cast of musicians—a full horn section, backup singers, two keyboards (Roy plays piano), guitar, bass and drums plus the occasional string section, fiddle and mandolin.
Brother Roy’s songs rest on a foundation of early rock and roll, doo-wop and R&B, combined with the ambitious productions of 70s album rock. The tunes are more complex than three-chord symphonies; the instrumental parts are completely orchestrated and the music is precisely performed. Every note and every pause seems to be the product of calculation. This is not sweaty, sloppy rock music played with abandon, but it is passionate and polished.
“Carolina,” one of the highlights of the album, romps and stomps as Roy sings about leaving the city to find “a home in the mud and sticks, breathe a little fresh air.” It’s one of the shaggier-sounding songs on the album. Brother Roy growls like Dr. John as the back-up singers and the horns offer a sweet complement. Toward the end of the tune, the piano, organ and guitar trade concise solos, each break building toward the next and pushing the music forward to a final chorus.
By contrast, “Come On By The House” is reflective are restrained. The lyric are a poetic invitation to find shelter from the hard, cold world.
Cause, I believe in these times
Yes, I believe all you need is love; it’s the only way to get right.
So may the stars always bring light and fill our eyes
because it gets dark out there
The song’s musical arrangement inspires peace, comfort and quiet joy. It starts out with piano and trumpet, building slowly with a string section broadening the sonic palette before the full band kicks in with soft drums and bass to provide a soulful backbeat to drive the song to the final refrain, “Come on by the house and stay for awhile.”
The songs don’t explore a singular theme. Each is its own world; many follow a narrative format. Several tunes concern familiar topics of love and romance, such as “Mary,” a remembrance of a summertime friend and one-night stand, and “Man Like Me,” a bouncy lyric about battling imposter syndrome. “Crazy Bill” is a Bourbon Street piano-thumper about a colorful character who was both more and less than he appeared.
It’s tempting to pick out Brother Roy’s influences as you listen to Last Man Standing. The first track, “Heartbreaker,” features a funky New Orleans beat and double-tracked lead vocals, recalling both Fats Domino and Double Fantasy-era John Lennon. The verses of the stately, gospel-tinged “Let Us Not Worry” brings to mind Elton John’s melancholy 70s sound with lyrics to match.
Out in Texas, boy, they’re looking for a fight.
New York City folks are scared to walk at night.
And California used to be the place you’d feel alright.
Better close the door; lock it tight.
And then the chorus drops into a grittier, soulful gear that sounds like classic Joe Cocker and practically begs for a sing-along.
Tell your sister; tell your mother. Tell your father and don’t forget your brother
To close the curtains, take the key and lock the door.
Let us not worry anymore.
Ultimately, trying to decide whether Brother Roy sounds like Dr. John or Elton John (or whether he is a disciple of Randy Newman or early Warren Zevon) misses the point. He is his own man. The mix of influences on Last Man Standing testify to the fact that Brother Roy has studied the artists who came before him and he has incorporated the bits that work for him into his own distinctive style.
Brother Roy may not truly be the last man standing, but he stands tall on this album, which sounds like a throwback even as it breaks new ground.