For What Is the Journey
SSari Brown materialized mysteriously in the city of Ann Arbor a few years back, emerging seemingly out of nowhere. Her roots have now been successfully traced back to the smallest nooks and crannies of rural Michigan, where she had spent most of her life hiding from the law. (Her childhood activism of freeing animals from laboratories caught up with her quickly.) Now that her case has been closed, she can afford a relatively higher profile, and travels from place to place meeting new people in order to become pen pals with them. (She never misses a payment on her post office box, and she always writes back!) A consummate guitar and ukulele player and ear-to-ear grinner, her night job is excitedly and passionately performing the songs that she's made up, whilst she balances out her rock-and-roll lifestyle with a day job of walking around in suburban neighborhoods and collecting "KEEP OFF LAWN UNTIL DRY" signs. When Brown set out to record her first full-length album, she described her objective in an interview as being "to make an album that you will put into your car stereo and listen to for the first time while driving around town crying and letting all the memories attached to certain streets or buildings come back to you, like a flood washing you clean. Whether you're crying from sadness or happiness is your decision, though I recommend both." Over the course of 8 months, while saving her pennies working as a secretary in Oakland County, through becoming a producer and arranger without having had any previous experience, after many thousands of hours rehashing, rehearsing and rerecording, and because of the occurrence of several small miracles, Brown released her compact disc in the United States in May of 2004 under the title For What is the Journey. It is widely agreed that she succeeded in every way with her complex artistic intentions for the album, and that at the same time she was able to communicate a universal and accessible piece of work. Indeed, it has been played and replayed by punk rockers, record store snobs, folk sing-alongers, Christian music fans, sad bastard country types, 60's soul purists, and even a few people who don't tend to like music at all. The surprising thing about the diversity of attention that "For What is the Journey" has garnered is the very specific and peculiar nature of the release. It is a concept album in the tradition of Morrison's Astral Weeks and Gaye's What's Going On, and the concept is that of Brown's tumultuous, yet ultimately transcendent, struggle to find a spiritual self. Her Christian influences, her forthrightness with her beliefs, and her uncompromised artistic originality were expected to turn away or alienate some listeners, but the album seems to do just the opposite-it seems to be welcoming with open arms people of every mindset. Perhaps the key to the universal appeal of the album is the playful, genre-bending nature of it's music, which sounds something like Van Morrison if he were a 16-year-old girl with a few of the members of The Band in his backing line-up. Though the album swings from country to soul to rock 'n roll, the talent and consistence of the backing instrumentalists, and Brown's abilities as a producer, fuse together with a continuity that makes it feel like a catchy and clever Cake record, if John McCrea sang all gospel songs. Or, perhaps the key is Brown's lyrics. Her songs are unswervingly intimate portrayals of hope, despair, traveling, wondering, working, and waiting. Her songs are about commonplace divinity: they're about only you, but at the same time, they're about everybody. She performs them as if she were sitting in a shack on a rainy day in mid-Michigan singing for someone she loves. Both reveling and reverent, all 11 of the songs on For What is the Journey, by themselves or as a whole body of work, touch on something sweet, simple, and soulful within each of us.