Country Jukebox Jury LP: Brett Kissel – What Is Life?

Brett, who has had 15 Top 10 hits up in Canada, delivers What Is Life, a set of ten tracks and four interstitial monologues featuring his three kids (how cute!). Released on his own label Bak 2 Bak, it’s a personal project which resonates with his fans around the world.

Brett opens the album with a soliloquy which asks the question that gives the album its title. ‘Where’s our world headed? What will become of this life?’ He closes with the rough guitar-and-vocal demo-sounding Kindness, with a dropped guitar tuning. Brett sings about things his kids should take heed of: don’t hate, difference is a good thing and kindness should be ‘contagious’.

In between come nine other possible answers to his question, the first attempt being the single Make A Life, Not A Livin. Money is less important than breathing, as it seems are funky riffs. A nice triple-time ramble called Die To Go Home opens with a town that’s ‘way too quiet’ and makes teenage Brett ‘bored every Saturday night’. But life is about home, looking at farms from an aeroplane and remembering where you’re from: ‘Just like gravity tugging at your soul’ is a very good line that I might steal and hope nobody notices, which Brett sings over a gentle backing.

Everything in the Rearview contains ‘a laundry list of things’ Brett did before he got out of his home town, ‘the bitter and the sweet’. It’s a reminiscin’ song about learning lessons (such is life!!) in years which fly by. Carpe diem is the message, baked in a middle of the dirt road pie. Without is a fun love song which has a list of essential items that people can remove from Brett’s world, even light itself. (Good luck getting enough oxygen from plants that can’t grow because there’s no sun.)

Down To Earth was written with the great Eric Paslay. It’s another carpe diem pop song which celebrates a rural life and getting ‘lost in a neverending sky’ with a lady. ‘The moon is all we need’ is a line from the first verse of Better Bad Idea, where life is about spending time cuddling in private, ‘my hands your hips/ I kiss your lips’; the arrangement is like a hug and a kiss too, with a silky guitar solo in the middle. I don’t know why it sounds very Canadian but it does.

Brad from Old Dominion is one of the writers for Night in the Life (not Day in the Life!), an Old Dominion-ish slice of party music with ‘boys chasing girls chasing stars’. It comes off as a Rascal Flatts tune, with potluck dinners and ties loosened after work and crowd singalongs (of, I imagine, Old Dominion tunes as well as Brett Kissel tunes). As with Better Bad Idea, there’s a brief section where Brett makes love. It sounds like a radio smash, and perhaps life is about enjoying the downtime.

Can you guess what Slidin Your Way is about? It’s about drinking, partying with loud music and getting jiggy, and it’ll sound perfect at Brett’s next gig thanks to its addictive and sticky chorus. Alternatively, From This Day Forward is a piano-and-strings wedding song (‘You give my life a new perspective’), and it’s good to hear devotion rather than sex. Life is about deep emotional connections and being a better person in step with someone else.

One-word review: Comprehensive.

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