What does it mean to be a successful musician? To some, it means album sales, screaming fans, and traveling the world. To Brooke Waggoner, it means being at home.
“I come from humble and modest beginnings,” she told the website Industry of One, “and I don’t intend on changing the way I’ve always lived based on what I do for a living. A ‘normal’ home life is something my husband and I work very hard to achieve. Traveling and taking part in exciting work projects is important to our lives, but when we’re home, we really wanna feel at home.” And she stays true to her word. Her Instagram account is filled with pictures not of rock-star posing but of her husband, Brad, and their infant son, Ames.
By any accounts, Waggoner has made it as a musician. She’s played backup for musical polymath Jack White, which for most musicians would be a crowning achievement. But she has also released three solo albums—Heal for the Honey, Go Easy Little Doves, and Originator—and recently premiered one of her classical compositions, “Minor-Born,” performed by the Nashville ensemble Chatterbird. She also participated in the 24HR Records project, writing and recording three songs in twenty-four hours with two other musicians.
Hailing from New Orleans, Waggoner studied music composition and orchestration at Louisiana State University before moving to Nashville, and her classical training is evident in her music. While piano-driven pop tends to be minimalist, Waggoner takes her listeners through twists and turns, changing keys and tempos, the piano lines supported by lush orchestration. The result: complex pop songs that reward multiple listens.
On her newest album, Originator, it’s clear that Waggoner has finally hit her stride. The album achieves an excellent blend of hard-driving pop anthems and slower piano lullabies. The music is heavily orchestrated, incorporating everything from pounding brass to haunting choir accompaniments. And Waggoner’s piano is front-and-center, playing lines that sound ripped from the nineteenth-century impressionists.
What Waggoner brings to the table that similar artists don’t is her heartfelt sincerity. She can deliver a line like “I love my life” without being ironic or sentimental. Her vocals sound like she’s amazed at the fact that she’s singing and performing. Even in the defiant “Rumble,” or the haunting “To Love,” her voice never loses its innocent quality. This sincerity shines through in her arrangements as well. The highly-orchestrated Originator is dramatic but never overblown. When Waggoner throws in an epic glissando or a jazz breakdown, it doesn’t feel like showing off. Instead, it feels like the result of sheer exuberance.
Her lyrics add to this sense of wonder. “Gonna find ways to make it happen,” she sings on “Rumble”; “Don’t believe in talking, useless talking / oh come on, let’s begin!” The spiritedness of this song continues on through Originator. Although she can be defiant—in “Ink Slinger” or “Perish”— she comes off as plucky rather than sarcastic. At the beginning of “Waterlogged,” she sings, “In the morning, there’s a victory, for I claimed another night / It’s just one more notch I carve into my belt / See the roses climb my window, and it sweeps me off my feet/ What a perfect sight to call my very own.” You’d be hard pressed to find this kind of gratitude anywhere else in pop music.
Home is a central concept to Southern identity. One thing that has made the region different is that its people have always been rooted to the land and have possessed a sense of place. Even though the South continues to change and grow, Brooke Waggoner’s music reminds us that home will never go out of style.
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