Becoming fully Cognizant of Brenda Carsey’s Sophomore album

“Cognizance” is The much-awaited sophomore album of Alt-Soul/R&B/Jazz Singer-songwriter Brenda Carsey. The album was produced, composed, and co-mixed by Carsey who worked in collaboration with Grammy award-winning engineer and mixer extraordinaire Mark Rains of Station House Studio in Los Angeles.

“Cognizance” follows Brenda’s 2017’s debut full-length Titled “Solitary Refinement” which was eerily named, as the album would be written from the tail-end of that year all through 2019, when the COVID shutdown put the breaks on Brenda’s successful IndieGoGo campaign to record the album. Once most of the restrictions were lifted, Brenda went into the studio in late April of 2021 to turn those little dreams called song lyrics into a solid reality called this amazing new album.

This brilliant new album comprises a Tour de Force by Carsey in which she absolutely dominates a full spectrum of genres, ranging from Jazz, Soul and classic R&B, while also dipping her toes a bit into Americana and even glimpses of Progressive Rock. Of the work, Carsey says “This album is the best quality album I have created to date…I wanted to push myself sonically beyond anything I have ever created and reach into the depths of my soul to bring to life art with a message through music that keeps the mind guessing and the heart happy!”

“Just trying To do My thing” Is almost all you need to know about Brenda Carsey and “Cognizance” rolled into one song, this paradoxically makes it both the best and the worst song to start the album with, because it is about the most complete one-shot argument that can be made for who Brenda is as a musician, or at least where she’s at right now. The song starts with the sweet complicity between Kyle Crane’s drums and the Piano played by Carsey herself, a pairing you’ll surely admire throughout the entire album.

“Home” broadens the orchestral palette with Jean-Paul Barjon’s cello. We can also appreciate Brenda’s righteous dip into old country Gospel hues that truly elevate the song to a fervently nostalgic piece. “Home” is also the first big emotional convulsion of the album. If by “Home” you haven’t felt some kinship between Brenda’s sound and that of Carly Simon you either need to listen more closely to each of them or you need to check your ears, methinks.

“Bang Bang” feels and sounds like it should have been a classic already, everything from the first few words right now to the way that the melody is structured to give soul to the moving picture unfolding in your head once the hook comes on. “Bang Bang” is really the first time in the album where we get a taste of what Carsey is really capable of vocally, it really blew me away. Guaranteed you’ll be singing the chorus.

“This Damn Place” is a very special song indeed, it’s the kind of tune you listen to on your way home from a job you get paid too little for. We’ve all been in those circumstances where we wish for a stroke of good fortune finally came our way, be that a significant other to help us get our footing or just that sweet opportunity we’ve been waiting for. “This Damn Place” is that bittersweet ballad to hanging on to life and normalcy by a thread, of desperately carving up a living while trying to keep your chin up and the positive attitude all the gurus and coaches said we ought.

“Unfortunate men” is quite a bit more dramatic with some really heavy-hitting prose. The song gains a Rock edge thanks in no small part to Kyle Crane’s drumming. The song’s title and chorus are an acerbic, sarcastic jab since the lyrics tell of female victimhood in regard to sexual and verbal abuse, as well as how society tends to perceive them.

“Rebel Walls” Once again brings one to contemplate the shared vibe between Carly Simon and Brenda Carsey, especially due to the Bond-Esque brushstrokes of the hook. With “Rebel Walls” Brenda Carsey gives us an inroad still toward Rock music, specifically classic 70s prog-rock, something which we can only hope she’s tempted to explore further and further into the future because she’s a damn good fit for it!

“I’m Sorry” Is a bit of a palate cleanser, as it starts off with a whistful acoustic guitar instead of the more usual piano chords we’ve come to expect in the album. “I’m Sorry” is all about reflecting upon your actions and behaviours and realizing that the only course of action is to truly apologize and strive to be better when one has truly failed to live up to something.. This song was the third single release leading up to the full album and with good reason, the subtle alternative/Shoegaze inclinations give it a great contrast to the previous two releases.

“Goat And Bull”  follows the guitar-leaning strength of “I’m Sorry” with a picturesque folkish banner that shows off Brenda’s creative range. Most of the Album by now has been a very modern and flavorful take on R&B/Soul music, however, this sound is an exploration of some other staples of Americana, namely the use of metaphors and Children’s Aesops illustrating real-world hurt.

“But You’re Alive” is the ultimate triumphant anthem of making it through a rough spot. Though you may be bruised and battered, as you draw breath you’re unbeaten and this is Carsey’s ultimate thesis statement, a true high-water mark set upon you by a fantastic album that is not yet through with us.

“Man Of Mine” Brilliantly follows “But You’re Alive” as an even more beautiful epilogue to the narrative of survival. “Man of Mine” is a gorgeous piece of Neo-soul/Jazz that’s entirely true to Brenda’s most genuine style, and it is a bardic ode to the sublime beauty of a love that’s growing strong. “Man Of Mine” stands out in Brenda’s overall repertoire in that it is a “positive love song”, meaning one that deals specifically with beautiful and happy emotions regarding the nature of relationships at their sweetest.

“Have You Ever Hid Love Away”  is one of those songs that again feels like it’s an ‘Oldies Goldies’ in every regard, and possibly the best vocals in the entire album too. It’s easy to assume that this song develops from the concepts behind the Beatle’s own “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”. This particular track is without a doubt the most powerful and emotional in the entire album, a modern take on classic R&B that exemplifies Brenda’s mastery over the composition and arrangement, and in my opinion, the 1st crowning jewel of “Cognizance”.

“Party’s over” is the 2nd Crowning Jewel of the album, and with good reason. The song is about that proverbial bad taste in your mouth left after a night of heavy partying and how a lifestyle revolving around chasing such entertainment continuously can leave one empty and lacking in meaning. Though less charged with emotion and passion, “Party’s Over” is more musically intense, a far beefier take on the main musical schools informing Brenda’s sound. 

“Life Can Be A Bitch” is named after a truism, but what else is true about it? The bouncy and almost musical-like vibe of the track blindsided me completely, almost like it was taken from a different album altogether, acting like a funny and bittersweet epilogue to “Cognizance”, at least sound-wise, because thematically, what does the statement “Life Can Be A Bitch” mean other than a stroke-of-genius bit of awareness? a conclusion of full cognizance? 

photos by @mooganphoto